(Well, not yet..but hopefully really, really soon.)
On Wednesday, November 8th, the acupuncture community held its first-ever Congressional briefing on Capitol Hill. The event was attended by over 50 members of the Senate or House of Representatives. Both Republicans and Democrats were in attendance, making it a rare bi-partisan event. The purpose was to bring evidence-based information to the ones who make policies.
Why were so many politicians from both parties interested in this congressional debriefing? The crisis of opioid use in the United States has reached a paramount level. Opioid related deaths have risen 540% in the last three years, leading the President to declare the opioid epidemic a “public health emergency” last month. No federal funds have been released and congressional representatives are searching for viable outcomes to this rapidly increasing epidemic.
The American Society of Acupuncturists (ASA) and the American Alliance for Professional Acupuncture Safety (AAPAS) joined forces to create a powerhouse of a presentation that impressed those in attendance, using unconventional methods.
[The first thing that comes to my mind when thinking of convincing policy makers about acupuncture is to hit them with evidence, then some more evidence, then a little bit more. We now have a solid amount of quality research studies that have used the gold standard: double-blind, placebo-controlled. However, this congressional presentation began not with the mind, but with the heart.]
Opening with a moving testimonial from a woman who lost her son to an opioid overdose last year, the audience was led through a first-handed account of what was available for treatment and how there was limited access to acupuncture. She believes if her son had had access to acupuncture, he would still be alive today. He had one experience with acupuncture in recovery and found it to be powerful and effective.
Licensed Acupuncturists then administered auricular acupuncture to all those in attendance. This was done seamlessly with multiple white-coated practitioners and rows of lounge chairs in a separate space. The attendants experienced acupuncture together (many for the first time) and the results were overwhelmingly positive.
After receiving acupuncture, the presentation continued in a more traditional manner, using a PowerPoint to break down the opioid epidemic. Why is it even happening? Increasing numbers of Americans find themselves in rising levels of pain, with the latest statistics reporting 1/3 of Americans report experiencing pain on a regular basis. In the United States, we have been prescribing opioids as the standard for many different types of pain, but especially for minor post-surgical procedures. Eighty five percent of Americans undergoing minor surgery fill a prescription for opioids within seven days post-surgery. In 2015, over 33,000 deaths occurred due to prescription opioid overdose. In 2016, reported deaths nearly doubled, rising to over 64,000. Bringing it back around to another startling statistic, the economic burden of the opioid epidemic in 2016: more than $78.5 billion dollars.
We simply cannot afford to continue treating pain the same way we have been.
- Acupuncture is effective in treating pain
- Acupuncture decreases the amount of opioids needed to treat pain
- Acupuncture is cost-effective
- Acupuncture is safe
- Acupuncture can help treat addiction
- Acupuncture is available (many licensed professionals throughout the United States)
- Acupuncture can also be a source of economic growth
This breakdown of why acupuncture should be used to treat the pain and opioid epidemic in the United States was backed up with quality research references.
Finally, if anyone in the audience was still unsure about integrating acupuncture into our medical system, Dr. Jun Xu, MD, LAc, gave a succinct presentation on how Traditional Chinese Medicine (including acupuncture) is being used in China alongside Western Medicine. For over 50 years, these two medical systems have been used together with excellent results for patients and lower cost of care. The bottom line: In China last year, the cost of health care per capita was $731. In the United States, the cost of health care per capita was $9,403.
In conclusion, the use of acupuncture is available, safe, effective and can cut health care costs dramatically. We already have a paradigm to follow that has been operating successfully for several decades and there is really no reason we shouldn’t integrate acupuncture into the treatment of pain and addiction to opioids in the United States.
Many attendees were moved by the thorough presentation and the personal experience of acupuncture. Dr. Kallie Guimond, D.OM., L.Ac., Legislative & Regulatory Liaison, ASA Board, was the core organizer of this event, and is the subsequent point of contact. She has already received a flood of calls from representatives interested in following up.
A huge thanks to all who worked to put together such a poignant presentation to those who have the ability to make real changes in the way we practice medicine in the United States. Their unconventional way of using human emotion and somatic experience before engaging the thought process appears to have been a good strategy. Here’s hoping for some great changes in legislation and the use of acupuncture as the new standard of care for pain and addiction.