Increasing Access to Another Safe and Effective Treatment for Addiction in Massachusetts

By Justine Myers, Lic. Ac.

Substance Use Disorder (SUD), more commonly referred to as addiction, is a major problem here in Massachusetts.  According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, approximately 10% of Massachusetts residents over age 12 suffer from substance use disorder (SUD).  Common treatments for SUD includes detoxification, behavioral therapy and medications, followed by recovery support services to prevent relapse. 

Massachusetts needs to do as much as possible to help treat and save individuals suffering with substance use disorders.  One effective, simple and inexpensive adjunctive therapy that is not yet being widely utilized within our state is the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association’s (NADA) 5 needle point ear acupuncture protocol (5NP). Proven effects of the NADA 5NP include relaxation, decreased withdrawal symptoms, decreased symptoms of emotional distress (i.e. stress, anxiety, depression, and aggression), reduced cravings, relief of insomnia, mindfulness and prevention of relapse.  The NADA 5NP can be used alongside all the other traditional treatments to enhance the success rates of treatment and long-term recovery.

The NADA 5NP involves the insertion of 5 acupuncture needles at specific acupuncture points of the earlobes (10 needles per person).  Supplies for this procedure cost less than 30 cents per person. If professionals who are already working in addiction programs are allowed to practice the NADA 5NP as part of their job, then the costs to add this procedure to existing care are very minimal.  Thousands of addiction programs, drug courts, prisons, healthcare and trauma units throughout the United States have been using ear acupuncture for many years. This protocol has been used in cooperation with the American Red Cross for trauma relief after 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and other natural disasters.

Why doesn’t Massachusetts already widely utilize the NADA 5NP? The widespread use of the NADA 5NP in Massachusetts will require the passage of an acupuncture detox specialist (ADS) law. Currently, only licensed acupuncturists are able to utilize this protocol, and there aren’t enough licensed acupuncturists available to provide ear acupuncture in every public health facility where access to this treatment is needed. In addition, it is not logistically possible for most licensed acupuncturists to leave their own acupuncture clinics in order to work at another facility for only a few hours a week.

27 states in our country have auricular acupuncture laws already.  Maine just passed an ADS law in June of 2019, leaving Massachusetts behind as the only New England state without an ADS law. Because an ADS law has such great potential to benefit the people of Massachusetts, I and many other licensed acupuncturists are supporting Massachusetts house bill H1880 and senate bill S1336, each titled “An Act Relative to Acupuncture Detoxification Specialists.” Representative Carole Fiola and Senator Michael Rodrigues are each sponsoring these bills that are assigned to the Joint Committee for Public Health. 

These bills would allow for specific licensed healthcare professionals (i.e. nurses, drug counselors, social workers, psychologists, and certain physicians) who aren’t licensed acupuncturists to practice the NADA 5NP following specific training requirements.  Once trained, these professionals would be allowed to perform the protocol within their current scope of practice, bringing the NADA 5NP to more people in the commonwealth. 

Passing the ADS law would be an effective, efficient, inexpensive and safe way to provide one more tool in the toolbox for those in SUD treatment and recovery.  If you’re personally affected by SUD or have experienced the benefits of acupuncture yourself, please help turn these bills into a law.  Contact your state senator and representative, and ask them to support bills S1336 and H1880, “An Act Relative to Acupuncture Detoxification Specialists.”  Together we can work to make SUD treatment and recovery a success for more people in Massachusetts.