Tapping into the Nature of Addiction
by Rachel Edwards, M.S., L.Ac.
Imagine a drug that can reduce anxiety, help relieve pain, and promote restful sleep. Now, imagine this drug offers “side effects” that are positive like a greater capacity to cope with life’s challenges; it isn’t addictive; and is extremely cost-effective to administer.
And now, what if this drug is not swallowed or injected, but is a therapy inherited from an ancient tradition that stimulates the body’s natural capacity to restore energetic balance?
Welcome to acupuncture!
Ever since the 1970s, slowly and surely acupuncture has emerged onto the healthcare scene in our country, and within the field of addiction acupuncture has a special history.
During the throes of the heroin epidemic in New York City in the 1980s, a dedicated group of workers within the recovery field in the Bronx brought in an acupuncturist from Montreal to teach the staff how to help with the intense symptoms of withdrawal using acupuncture points in the ears and also body acupuncture. Long story short, it was determined that a combination of 5 particular points in the ear delivered daily by healthcare workers most effectively helped to alleviate symptoms of drug and alcohol detoxification, eliminated the need for methadone, and increased retention in the recovery programs. This success in addiction treatment is only achieved when the ear acupuncture program is integrated alongside of counseling, support groups, and other services.
History was made and the NADA protocol was born.
NADA is the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association, a non-profit group that promotes how to use ear acupuncture as an adjunctive treatment for addiction and mental illness. The NADA protocol (also known as Acudetox) has been integrated into recovery centers and healthcare settings throughout our country and around the world administered by people of all backgrounds trained by NADA.
And the NADA protocol has spread worldwide to help people suffering after natural disasters and war atrocities. In New York City one day after 9/11, a nurse at St. Vincent’s Hospital in lower Manhattan obtained permission to treat first hospital staff, then rescue workers and anyone in the community to ease the effects of shock and emotional trauma. For 5 years, the Red Cross paid for this clinic, and then extended these benefits to the survivors of hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma.
In Vermont there are over a dozen NADA trained professionals offering Acudetox around the state to people in recovery, veterans of war, and within the mental health arena.
In Addison County for the past two years, every Tuesday afternoon The Counseling Service of Addison County clients come together for a Stress-Reduction/Acudetox group. Sitting in chairs or lying on mats on the floor, clients share an hour of restoration and relaxation quietly together. The “drug” administered is the stimulation of the own body’s natural energetic chemistry to self-regulate and heal. This is happening in counties all through Vermont.
It is important to note that Acudetox is one form of acupuncture and is not the same as whole body acupuncture. Licensed acupuncturists complete a 4-year clinical training and can offer Acudetox. Individuals trained by NADA are not acupuncturists, but are Acudetox Technicians supervised by licensed acupuncturists and regulated through the State’s Office of Professional Regulation.
However, our current opioid epidemic has brought greater attention at both the Federal and State level to the potential for both Acudetox and full-body acupuncture to be covered by insurance for those struggling with addiction, pain, trauma, and mental health imbalances who need a non-pharmaceutical response to their experience.
In fact, this July a new law, Opiate Bill S. 243 came into effect in Vermont. The law grants $200,000 to engage a pilot project to offer acupuncture services to Medicaid-eligible Vermonters with a diagnosis of chronic pain. The Vermont legislation creates a project that will start with the development of an advisory group of pain management specialists.
This funding to support research and the potential for greater integration of complementary services within the field of addiction is ground-breaking. Indeed, for the opioid crisis we need to embrace all of our tools and possibilities. Addiction is a complex imbalance of both the individual and our society: there is no part of those suffering from addiction or the community that is unaffected. In this regard, addiction is a whole system disease. To meet this complex imbalance, holistic therapies such as acupuncture are powerful complements to counseling, Medication Assisted Treatment, peer support groups, and other rehabilitative services.
With increased funding for NADA trainings (i.e., more social workers and nurses administering the NADA protocol within the public health arena), continued research, and greater insurance coverage of full-body acupuncture, we will inevitably shift our dependence upon addictive pain killers. And, we will surely acknowledge the powerful tool within our hands that taps into the natural connection within ourselves and to one another.
For Licensed Acudetox Technicians in your area go to: Complementary Treatment
Rachel Edwards, M.S., L.Ac. is a licensed acupuncturist. She has a private practice in Bristol, Vermont and is a provider at Mountain Health Center in Bristol offering acupuncture as part of the Center’s new integration of complementary care services. Going into its third year, Rachel continues to offer Acudetox treatments at CSAC every Tuesday afternoon.
Rachel is a member of the Addison County Committee on Substance Use and Prevention.