PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Marine veteran Jeff Harris was among the first to sign up when the Providence VA hospital started offering acupuncture for chronic pain.
Although long derided as pseudoscience and still questioned by many medical experts, acupuncture is increasingly being embraced by patients and doctors, sometimes as an alternative to the powerful painkillers behind the nation’s opioid crisis.
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.
Acupuncturists and their proponents are “exploiting the opioid crisis to try to promote acupuncture as an alternative treatment,” he said. “But promoting a treatment that doesn’t work is not going to help the crisis.”
While research continues, insurance coverage of acupuncture keeps expanding. California, Massachusetts, Oregon and Rhode Island pay for acupuncture for pain through their Medicaid insurance programs. Massachusetts and Oregon also cover acupuncture as a treatment for substance abuse, though scientists question how well it reduces the cravings caused by chemical dependency.