Acupuncture helps addicts overcome withdrawal: study
Wednesday, Jul 06, 2005
Acupuncture can be a useful tool in reducing intravenous drug use in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, home to an estimated 4,000 addicts, a new study shows.
Addicts said the acupuncture approach helped them to deal with painful withdrawal symptoms. Many also preferred it to usual treatments like methadone, said Dr. Patricia Janssen, an epidemiologist at the University of British Columbia who led the study.
In Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, the prevalence rate for HIV is 30 per cent and 90 per cent for hepatitis C, making it a priority area for public-health programs aimed at reducing the use of injected drugs.
Janssen said addicts perceived acupuncture as a more natural treatment, and that it appealed to people from diverse cultures.
The researcher said she was inspired by what she has seen on her many visits to China, and wanted to see if acupuncture could be an effective alternative to methadone.
"Acupuncture is not alternative in many parts of the world. It's mainstream. So it's just a matter of having an imagination, and thinking about different possible approaches."
Janssen said she and her colleagues weren't prepared for how many drug users turned up for acupuncture during the voluntary program.
There were 2,755 treatments for a group of addicts who visited clinics every couple of weeks over a three-month period. A statistically significant number of them reduced their drug use after they were treated.
The results of the study have been published in the Journal of Urban Health.
The study's authors hope the findings will help to win over the medical establishment. "It helped people reduce the side-effects of substance withdrawal, so it's one more tool that we have to help people withdraw from drugs."
Addicts reported less intense withdrawal symptoms including "shakes," stomach cramps, hallucinations, "muddle-headedness," insomnia, muscle aches, nausea, sweating, heart palpitations, and feeling suicidal.
Janssen is embarking on a new clinical trial that will treat pregnant drug-addicted women with acupuncture, instead of the usual methadone.
The treatment could lessen or eliminate the need to give the newborns morphine, to help them deal with the pain of addiction inherited from their mothers.