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Acupuncture Offered As An Alternative To Opioids

Marine veteran Jeff Harris was among the first to sign up when the Providence VA hospital started offering acupuncture for chronic pain.

“I don’t like taking pain medication. I don’t like the way it makes me feel,” he said.

Harris also didn’t want to risk getting addicted to heavy-duty prescription painkillers.

The military and Veterans Affairs medical system has been offering acupuncture for pain for several years, some insurance companies cover it and now a small but growing number of Medicaid programs in states hit hard by opioid overdoses have started providing it for low-income patients.

Ohio’s Medicaid program recently expanded its coverage after an opioid task force urged state officials to explore alternative pain therapies.

For a long time in the U.S., acupuncture was considered unstudied and unproven — some skeptics called it “quack-u-puncture.” While there’s now been a lot of research on acupuncture for different types of pain, the quality of the studies has been mixed, and so have the results.

Federal research evaluators say there’s some good evidence acupuncture can help some patients manage some forms of pain. But they also have described the benefits of acupuncture as modest, and say more research is needed.

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