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Acupuncture helps keep patients in treatment

August 20, 2016
by Tom Valentino, Senior Editor
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Acupuncture won’t replace other forms of treatment for addiction, PTSD, stress, and psychological and emotional trauma, but when used in conjunction with those programs, it can lead to demonstrably more effective treatment, according to Libby Stuyt, MD, of the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo.

Stuyt is the medical director for the institute’s Circle Program, a state-funded, 90-day inpatient, dual-diagnosis treatment program for men and women who have failed to complete other programs. The Circle Program uses the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association (NADA) 5-point ear acupuncture protocol to help calm patients and cope with trauma so they can be more active participants in other areas of treatment.

Separate studies have shown incorporating acupuncture into programs has reduced dependence on heroin, cocaine and alcohol, and made patients more likely to complete treatment, Stuyt told National Conference on Addiction Disorders attendees Saturday in Denver.

“This is such a relaxing protocol,” Stuyt said. “Even though patients are stressed out and all these bad things are happening, they can regroup and address what else is going on. That’s why it keeps people in treatment.”

Ideally, patients receive one 30- to 45-minute acupuncture treatment, three to five times per week, Stuyt said. Additional sessions can be implemented during detoxification.

Stuyt noted a 2005 study published in the Medical Acupuncture Journal that found after six months, 22 substance abuse treatment patients who also received NADA completed treatment at a higher rate than 22 non-NADA patients (74% vs. 44%), spent fewer days in inpatient rehabilitation on average (39 days vs. 47) and had lower costs incurred ($15,580 vs. $17,890).

To date, however, the number of programs that incorporate acupuncture in the U.S. remains small. As of 2012, just 628 of 14,311 programs surveyed by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reported using acupuncture.

One reason for that relatively low number is that acupuncture practicing laws vary by state; 21 states have a form of NADA exemption that allows for an expanded scope of practice beyond acupuncturists and physicians, but other states have stringent limits on accessibility to the protocol.

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