On a scale of 1 to 10, residential treatment patients at AdCare Rhode Island usually rank at 1 in their familiarity with acupuncture. But on the same scale, their enthusiasm for including it as part of their treatment soars toward 10.
“I think people are eager to try new things,” says Tara Bogs, executive director of AdCare Hospital's Rhode Island facility, which includes detox, residential and outpatient care. Yet while AdCare Rhode Island's work with an acupuncturist represents a first for the organization overall, the use of acupuncture in addiction treatment is hardly a new experiment. The auricular acupuncture protocol commonly used with substance use treatment patients has been applied for years—although reimbursement for the practice remains a hurdle.
For the past six weeks, AdCare Rhode Island has piloted twice-weekly visits to its residential program from acupuncturist Grayson Wood of Shining Sea Acupuncture. It is exposing residential treatment patients in particular, and all voluntarily, to the hourlong sessions because these patients generally are more medically stable than detox patients.
In sessions conducted on Monday and Thursday mornings, six residential patients receive the acupuncture protocol, in which several fine-gauge needles are placed just under the skin at various points on the ear. The patients sit quietly together in a group room during the sessions. Bogs says response from patients so far has been overwhelmingly positive, and AdCare already is considering budgeting for sessions three times a week in the future (it is paying directly to make these services available at the Rhode Island facility).
“A lot of our patients didn't know they could relax for five minutes, much less an hour,” says Bogs.
Candidates for acupuncture
In deciding which of the interested patients will receive the treatments, AdCare Rhode Island considers several variables:
Who has shown from past treatment experiences that they could benefit from an enhancement to services. “Who hasn't responded [to treatment] before?” says Bogs.
Who might be able to receive more sessions overall during their anticipated treatment stay. Bogs says AdCare would like a patient who will be on site for two weeks to receive the maximum four sessions over that period if possible.
A patient's presenting issues. Someone with anxiety could benefit greatly from the calming effect of the sessions.
Who might be able to sustain progress post-treatment, even if that doesn't involve receiving acupuncture in the community. “Could they replicate the [calming] experience in other ways?” says Bogs.
She adds that it is important not to introduce acupuncture as a stand-alone activity that is not integrated into the rest of the clinical experience. Patients discuss each session with their counselors, processing the feelings it generated and the outcomes.
Local acupuncturist Wood's website states that in acupuncture treatment for individuals with a variety of health conditions, “the person's own powers of disease resistance are supported and fortified so that a natural healing process can take place.” AdCare Rhode Island is seeing this as an important component of an increasingly holistic approach to care.
Bogs says the popularity of the sessions among patients crosses all demographic lines. “We even kept it going on the Fourth of July,” she says.
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