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November 28, 2017

Acupuncture: An Alternative to Drug Therapy and overuse of Opioids

Every day over 140 Americans die from accidental drug overdose. Alarmingly, 65% of those deaths are from an opioid drug overdose. In 2016 alone, the annual death toll due to an opioid overdose was 64,000. This is a 22 increase from the previous year. The overuse of opioids to treat pain has become so dangerous that on October 26th, 2017, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared the opioid crisis a nationwide public health emergency (Department of Health and Human Services, 2017).

As a result, the opioid addiction epidemic has increased awareness and interest in alternative pain management care such as acupuncture. Today, it’s estimated that more than “700 addiction centers offer acupuncture as an alternative and/or adjudicative therapy” (Esmaeili, Motlagh & Ibrahim et al., 2016, April). Acupuncture has been shown to be safe, effective, non-pharmacological treatment for the management of various types of acute and chronic pain. In fact, acupuncture has proven successful as a pain management tool by the U.S. Military and the Veterans Administration. In addition, private acupuncture clinics and hospitals in the U.S. and the European Union are increasingly using acupuncture for pain management especially in response to the growing interest in complementary medicine solutions (Bellamy, 2013).

Japanese and Chinese acupuncture banner

Recently AIMC-Berkeley held a training seminar by a myofascial pain specialist and researcher, Dr. Kazunori Itoh of Meiji International Medical University in Japan. Dr. Itoh shared his expertise and treatment strategies for how to treat musculoskeletal and myofascial pain with acupuncture using trigger points and brain-balancing points. Dr. Itoh explained that trigger points are not just tender points which is a common misunderstanding. In simple terms, trigger points are “hyperirritable spots” on the body that are painful on compression and often give rise to referred and recurring pain. They have identifiable characteristics, some of which are taut bands and/or local twitch responses (LTR). Dr. Itoh’s approach is gentle and precisely on the point. He locates the trigger points and needles at an angle and depth without causing muscle damage. This results in safe, effective, and long lasting pain relief for the patient. The practitioner can easily check whether the acupuncture treatment was successful by simply testing the range of motion of the involved muscles after the treatment. Dr. Itoh explained that the recurrence of pain can be best prevented by a “lifestyle approach” to health, applying integrative medicine modalities such as Yojo therapy. Yojo therapy is well-known for its balanced approach of integrating acupuncture, moxibustion, meditation, physical exercise, yoga, attention to diet, aromatherapy, esthetics, and living according to the seasons.

Moreover, Dr. Itoh’s research has led to the discovery of a comprehensive acupuncture treatment for chronic low back, neck pain and fibromyalgia, which is a condition of widespread musculoskeletal pain accompanied by muscle stiffness, fatigue, functional impairment, and insomnia. He shared that a combination of certain acupuncture points on the limbs, face, scalp, and ears have a brain-balancing effect that relieves fibromyalgia pain rather than using just a single acupuncture modality alone, e.g. auricular acupuncture.

Dr. Kazumori Itoh’s approach is an effective treatment for pain management. Acupuncture offers patients a non-pharmacological alternative to treating pain from various health conditions, eliminating the dangers of over-reliance on drugs. In 2012, conventional Western Medical Doctors wrote over 259 million prescriptions for opioids (Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2014). This has resulted in a reliance on opioids contributing to the current opioid epidemic and public health emergency. Acupuncture is now being recommended by various western medical clinics as an alternative to pharmaceuticals or drug therapy. In addition, the American College of Physicians is now recommending acupuncture as an alternative pain management treatment for low back pain before pain medications are prescribed (ACP, 2017). Acupuncture is certainly one viable option for pain treatment and the epidemic of opioid use.

For future courses on myofascial release with Dr. Kazunori Itoh, please check our website. If you are struggling with unresolved pain, call our clinic to schedule your appointment.


Department of Health and Human Services, (2017, October) Retrieved from https://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2017/10/26/hhs-acting-secretary-declares-public-health-emergency-address-national-opioid-crisis.html

Esmaeili Motlagh, F. & Ibrahim, F. et al., A. (2016, April) National Center for Biotechnology Information, Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4822281/

Bellamy, J. (2016, July) Integrative Medicine Invades the US Military, Science-Based Medicine, Retrieved from https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/integrative-medicine-invades-the-u-s-military-part-one/

Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2014) Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2014/p0701-opioid-painkiller.html

ACP, American College of Physicians (2017, February) Retrieved from https://www.acponline.org/acp-newsroom/american-college-of-physicians-issues-guideline-for-treating-nonradicular-low-back-pain

*For the review of evidence-based effectiveness and efficacy, please review Acupuncture’s Role in Solving the Opioid Epidemic White Paper 2017: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B13W8wPqccKHc3BvRmIyM1pIcDA/view

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