Drug recovery workers in New Hampshire will soon have a new tool to help their clients: acupuncture. It’s a kind specifically designed to help addicts deal with withdrawal symptoms and cravings.
For decades, this treatment could only be administered by licensed acupuncturists but as of July , New Hampshire joins more than 20 other states in allowing those on the frontlines to offer this care too. This story is part two in this weeks series, "Alternatives."
[Editor's note: We recommend listening to this story]
It’s a hot summer evening in Nashua. A peer support group at the Revive Recovery house has just wrapped up a meeting, but a few women stay behind to get some “additional treatment.”
Seven women sit in a wide circle as another woman places small orange needles…in both their ears.
So, you are going to feel a little pinch – but you’ve had this before?," said Elizabeth Ropp, an acupuncturist in Manchester.
"Oh, yeah, I’m used to needles. It’s cool. Aw, I feel it already. Oh that one was good," Kristine Tirone said while getting the ear acupuncture.
"Is there anything burning, pinching or stinging? Okay, let me know if anything is uncomfortable," Ropp tells Tirone.
Tirone, who's 23, is in a residential treatment facility for a heroin addiction. She’s received acupuncture before while in detox, but this time she says she’s more clear headed and noticing the results.
“I can’t believe I am sitting down this long," Tirone said with acupuncture needles sticking out of both her ears.
"I’m usually way over stimulated and I’m just sitting here...it’s amazing.”
Tirone said after the treatment she felt less anxious, her migraine went away and that night she said she slept like a baby.
Studies have shown acupuncture can also help with acute withdrawal symptoms.
“They are something that is going to help with the nausea, with the fluctuations with body temperature, with the anxiety, with the sleep," said Ropp.
For the past few months, Ropp’s been going to recovery centers like Revive to give free ear treatments.
According to the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association, the 5-point ear treatment is designed to help with those battling a substance abuse problem as well as curb withdrawal symptoms.
Click on the circles above to see what each trigger point is supposed to help with.
Ropp said the ear makes sense. It has five distinct trigger points and the treatment can be given in group therapy sessions while fully clothed.
It’s cheap too. The supplies to do an ear treatment cost about thirty-five cents.
Ropp said the hard part is getting the treatment to the people who want it.
“Many people who are looking for help aren’t necessarily going to think to walk into an acupuncture clinic," Ropp said. "And the people who are working on the frontline in the trenches with people who are in acute detox aren’t necessarily the licensed professionals.”
There are about 130 acupuncturists in the state and they’ve all been through thousands of hours of training. But few have been specifically trained on how to give this treatment to addicts.
A new state law now allows licensed health care professionals, recovery coaches and peer counselors to administer this ear treatment after completing a 70-hour course.
Advocates for the change say this training designed by a national group has been around for decades and it has a good safety record. But some acupuncturists in the state have concerns.
Kathryn Wantuck of the New Hampshire Acupuncture Licensing Board said the board thinks the training should be New Hampshire based.
“The way the statue is written leaves the board’s somewhat tied and leaves it up to this national organization as to what the training is, how many hours are required, how much this course is going to cost?"
The board is hoping to have the certification process finalized in the next few months.
And once they do, 27-year-old Ryan Fowler wants to get trained.
Fowler has been in recovery from heroin for almost three years. Acupuncture is part of his ongoing treatment and he’s seen it help others when he was working at a recovery shelter in Manchester.
“There were two or three nights where I could just feel the energy in the whole facility just kind of become more calm, just a lot more peaceful," Fowler said.
"It was really cool to see a group of people who are just hurt just calm down a little bit even if just for a little bit.”
Fowler is now a recovery worker in Concord. He hopes to start acupuncture training soon and when he’s done – he said he’ll carry acupuncture needles with him wherever he goes.