The United States is facing an increasing opioid dependency epidemic. Sales of oxycodone and hydrocodone (two of the leading prescription pain meds) have quadrupled since 1999, so it’s no coincidence that overdoses have too. The latest data suggests that at least 2 million Americans are dependent on prescription opioids. These alarming numbers have led to various calls to action on the part of states, and have also started hospitals and healthcare providers thinking of alternative ways to treat pain.
That’s a good thing, since it’s often in the doctor’s office or an emergency room when that first pain medication is prescribed, leading to subsequent addiction and dependency. ERs across the country are taking steps to use opioids only as a last resort, turning to other methods like laughing gas, non-narcotic infusions and injections and acupuncture for pain relief.
Acupuncture is very often used to relieve chronic pain and has been proven effective for treating various aches and injuries from frozen shoulder to back pain to sciatica. For years it’s been a valuable alternative to prescription pain medication, providing relief without any of the potentially harmful side effects of pain medication.
In Minneapolis, Abbott Northwestern Hospital has been using acupuncture in its ER for the past two year; they are one of the first hospitals in the nation to have an on-staff acupuncturist. Acupuncture is offered to patients for an array of pain symptoms: everything from car accident injuries to kidney stones. The hospital tracked 182 patients’ pain scores and found that they had dropped by the same amount as those patients who received pain meds.
The issue of opioid addiction is becoming more urgent as hospitals and legislators struggle to find solutions. Acupuncture can play a role both in battling the epidemic as well as for everyday pain management. As the National Institutes of Health start to fund more clinical studies around acupuncture’s efficacy, we will hopefully see more hospitals adopting similar practices.