Opioid Options: Acupuncture going mainstream?

Dr. Machado believes there is a reason to study acupuncture and seek scientific proof it's an option to pain management. Dominique Pineiro / U.S. Navy

As doctors across America look for ways to address the opioid crisis, alternative forms of pain management are getting serious second looks.

Dr. Andre Machado, the Chairman of the Neurological Institute at the Cleveland Clinic in Northeast Ohio works at ground zero of the opioid crisis.

"Cleveland Clinic's biggest hospitals are in Ohio," he said, "which is at the very center of the opioid crisis. States like Florida and Nevada, where we also have clinical operations, have also been significantly affected."

Dr. Machado says progress has been made to curb the problem, but opioids continue to devastate communities across America, including many in Nevada.

Now, he and others in the medical field, are opening up to one alternative to pain management, once described by some as "astrology with needles."

"For acupuncture, there are studies being developed, and there is some evidence that for muscle related pain, it can be effective," Dr. Machado said, "but this does need to be formally evaluated before we can conclude it is an effective therapy, in and of itself."

Dr. Heather Brookman, OMD, practices acupuncture in Las Vegas. She says success in pain management varies from patient to patient.

"We see a lot of back pain, a lot of neck and shoulder pain," she said. "Those are probably the ones we see the most, and it's very effective for those."

Brookman also says she sees a number of patients who can no longer use opioids to manage pain, for one reason or another.

"For some people, the side effects of opiates are just so intolerable they're here right away. For others, the opiates aren't really that effective anymore so they've been on them a while and there's nowhere left to go with the dosage, so they're here to get some relief or try to dial back."

Dr. Machado believes there is a reason to study acupuncture and seek scientific proof it's an option to pain management.

He says it's fair to say there 'might' be a promise.

"It seems to be safe. I don't think there is much concern about the long term safety of it in trained hands," Dr. Machado said. "The question is whether it is truly effective on its own, and there is only one way to find out the answer, which is to formally research it."

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