Tuesday, May 5, 2009
Acupuncture for Addiction: It Doesn't Look Good
Needles fail in latest study of opiate detox.
Acupuncture as a treatment for drug addiction took another punch recently in a study published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment. In “Auricular acupuncture as an adjunct to opiate detoxification treatment,” the study authors investigated whether acupuncture would “add value” to a standard methadone-based detoxification process. For the two-week study, 82 opiate-addicted patients were randomly assigned to either ear acupuncture by qualified acupuncturists, or the attachment of ear clips by non-professionals. Each day, the study participants were tested for withdrawal severity and craving.
"On none of the 14 days,” the authors report, “were there statistically significant differences between patients allocated to ‘real’ acupuncture and the ‘sham’ treatment. Such statistically insignificant difference as there were favored the ‘sham’ treatment....”
The results, say the authors, “are consistent with the findings of other studies which failed to find any effect of acupuncture in the treatment of drug dependence.” Moreover, the authors conclude, this finding is “particularly disappointing as if anything the circumstances favored the acupuncture option,” since in contrast “the alternative may not have been seen as a convincing therapy.” Nevertheless, “like the featured study, previous studies of acupuncture in the treatment of opiate addiction have been unconvincing.... The ‘ineffective’ verdict on acupuncture extends to the treatment of cocaine dependence,” the authors maintain, while an attempt to replicate earlier positive findings on acupuncture for alcohol dependence found no benefits, either.
The authors also reflect on whether such offerings, though of dubious value, attract addicts to treatment centers. “The possibility remains that offering something concrete like acupuncture helps attract people to services, and that doing something both clients and staff believe is worthwhile (even if it is a ‘sham’ procedure) helps retain patients in treatment, and in doing so improves outcomes.”
Of course, this is only one study out of many, and acupuncture enthusiasts remain as optimistic as ever. Proponents of acupuncture treatment continue to petition the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) for endorsement. Most reports of success remain anecdotal. Nonetheless, the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association estimates that there are currently 200 acupuncture detoxification programs operating in the United States and Europe.
Photo Credit: The 217