Due to the national opioid crisis, health professionals are looking for new ways to treat pain in order to leave opioids as a last resort. Since the 1990s, opioids have been used as a first line of defense against all types of pain. This has manifested into the massive nationwide opioid addiction crisis. Doctors once believed that the potential for addiction with these drugs was low, but it is just now being revealed that many of the drug manufacturers manipulated doctors and understated the risk associated with these drugs. Now, one Connecticut health care provider wants to see alternative medicine for addiction used on a larger scale.
Matt Maneggia is an acupuncturist but has also been personally affected by opioid addiction. His brother suffered from opioid addiction for most of his adult life, ultimately dying from a heart attack most likely associated with his drug use. He had no idea what drove his brother to use drugs but he did notice that acupuncture always seemed to have a significant effect on him.
For the San Diego Union-Tribune, Matt talked about his brother, saying that “Growing up, he was classic ADHD, but this was before it was a thing. His experience was learning from his teachers that he wasn’t good enough. From high school on, he was going down this path. It was a little different than people getting hooked on pain meds and then turning to heroin. With him, it was more about self-medication. He started with alcohol and eventually, he got into heroin, and that was what really did him in.”
Matt said that his experience with watching his brother suffer is what drove him to practice alternative medicine for addiction. He would watch his brother be prescribed a whole array of medication for ADHD and Bipolar Disorder. These medications would cause a range of side effects, only leading to even more prescription drugs to treat those side effects. He saw how little these drugs did to help his brother. Matt wanted to find ways that could more naturally treat pain, drug cravings, and psychiatric disorders. Maneggia says that during acupuncture, your body is creating endorphins that can bind to the receptors that the synthetic opioid was satisfying, which he found extremely interesting.
After practicing acupuncture for 10 years, Matt feels that the practice should more often be covered by insurance companies, both to treat pain and as an alternative medicine for addiction. He says that it is not a magic bullet, but the treatment can significantly reduce the discomfort of opioid withdrawal as well as cravings. Matt says that
“It can really help reduce the side effects. It helps your mood improve. People going off opiates will also have nausea and muscle aches. Those are things acupuncture can treat.”
Matt also cited a story of his brother breaking his back. He was clean and sober at the time, so was looking for alternatives to the morphine doctors were trying to prescribe him. He always said the acupuncture helped his back pain a lot, while also helping reduce his cravings for opioids to treat the pain.
“Right now, it seems like acupuncture and what we’re doing goes hand in hand with this opioid crisis,” Maneggia said. “I feel like it could be so useful as a first stop treatment for pain.”
Matt says that some insurance companies cover the service, but usually for very specific reasons and limited sessions. He stated that “Most insurance companies cover it, some of it only pays so little that it prevents a lot of acupuncturists from joining. It’s not as robust as it could be. They could improve coverage. Sometimes, the insurance company will only pay if it’s for morning sickness or arthritis of the knee.”
With the astronomical numbers of people suffering from opioid addiction, health care providers are going to be forced to find a holistic alternative to treat addiction and pain management. Some insurance companies have even stopped coverage for drugs like OxyContin, so it is likely that they are currently looking for alternatives. Insurance companies and federal agencies are both insisting doctors only use opioids as a last a resort, so treatment methods like acupuncture will probably be seen more often in the coming months and years.
Drug manufacturers are also facing civil lawsuits as well as criminal charges for their marketing tactics of prescription opioids. Many opioids will begin to become rarer as these lawsuits play out. Physical therapy, yoga, herbal remedies, and acupuncture are all natural ways that have shown to reduce pain. If you are suffering from chronic pain, it is best to talk to doctors about alternative medicine before starting an opioid regimen. Once an opioid prescription begins, it can be nearly impossible to stop.
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