Marine veteran Jeff Harris was among the first to up when the Providence VA hospital started offering acupuncture for chronic pain.  “I don’t like taking pain medication” he said and didn’t want to risk getting addicted to heavy-duty pain killers. Acupuncture is increasingly being embraced by patients and doctors as an alternative to the powerful pain killers behind the nation’s opioid crisis.  The military and Veterans Affairs medical system has been offering acupuncture for pain for several years.  Medicaid programs in states hit hard by opioid overdoses have started providing it for low-income patient.

Ohio’s Medicaid program recently expanded its coverage after an opioid task force urged state officials to explore alternative pain therapies.  “We have a really serious problem here,” said Dr. Mary Applegate, medical director for Ohio’s Medicaid department.  “If it’s proven to be effective, we don’t want barriers in the way that could work.” The epidemic was triggered by an explosion in prescriptions of powerful painkillers, such as Oxycontin and Fentanyl.

Many opioid addictions begin with patients in pain seeking help, and acupuncture is increasingly seen as a way to help keep some patients from ever having to go on opioids in the first place. Opioid addiction is driving this epidemic with 20,101 overdose deaths related to prescription pain relievers and 12,990 overdose deaths related to heroin in 2015.

Chinese Medicine and acupuncture have successfully been used to assist in drug detoxification beginning in Hong Kong in 1972. However, China has a long history of opiate use beginning in the early 18th century. In 1729, Emperor Yung Chen attempted the first suppression of opium when issuing an edict banning the smoking of opium.