Chinese Medicine Vs. the Opioid Epidemic Part III

In 1874, English researcher, C.R. Wright, first synthesized heroin by boiling morphine and acetic anhydride. Wright’s early testing of heroin – then known as diacetylmorphine – showed very undesirable side effects such as anxiety, sleepiness and vomiting immediately following administration in all participants. Accordingly, Wright discontinued his research.

Over 20 years later in 1895, German scientist Heinrich Dreser and his colleagues at the pharmaceutical company Bayer continued Wright’s studies and declared diacetylmorphine successful in treating many common respiratory ailments. Bayer began manufacturing diacetylmorphine and marketed it under the brand name Heroin. Heroin was unregulated at the time and soon became widely available in many over the counter forms.

 Considered another miracle drug, Heroin was used to treat headaches, colds and other common ailments. Many doctors prescribed Heroin to women suffering from premenstrual syndrome, hysteria and other so-called “female complaints.” Most of heroin’s biggest users at this time were wealthy, upper-class individuals.

Ironically, in the early 1900s Heroin was given to active morphine and codeine addicts as an alternative to – and as a solution for – their addiction. The philanthropic St. James Society even mounted a campaign to mail free samples of heroin to morphine addicts. As one might imagine, this “miracle drug” mindset and ever widening distribution resulted in an alarming drug epidemic particularly in northern industrial slums, Heroin was no longer the vice of the rich, and everyone was now welcome to the drug.

By 1924, the New York deputy police commissioner reported that 94 percent of those addicted to drugs who were also arrested for criminal activity were using heroin. Heroin and crime became synonymous and, as a result, that same year Congress unanimously passed a law banning the manufacture, distribution and import of heroin in the United States.

 Big corporations like Bayer and Merck took another fifty years to get back into the heroin business with the help of the US government but this time they made a synthetic version, a chemical copy with clean marketing names like oxycontin, vicoden and fentanyl that were distributed in shiny packages of clean white pills. They couldn’t market it for getting high so they said it was for pain, everybody has pain. As a result America has been flooded with hundreds of tons of synthetic heroin in pocket sized blister packs or little amber bottles. Most of the drugs go to the right people initially for the right reasons but one cannot underestimate the appeal of an opiate high and there is an ever growing illegal trade in the drugs. But, do not be misled to believe that the majority of addicts are of the black market variety, the vast majority got hooked via prescriptions from their doctors and only resort to the black market when their prescriptions run out.

So, once again the United States is facing a national opioid epidemic, and medical systems are in need of non-pharmacologic strategies that can be employed to decrease the public’s opioid dependence. Acupuncture has emerged as a powerful, evidence-based, safe, cost-effective, and available treatment modality suitable to meeting this need.

Acupuncture has been shown to be effective for the management of numerous types of pain conditions, and mechanisms of action for acupuncture have been described and are understandable from biomedical and physiologic perspectives. Further, acupuncture’s cost-effectiveness can dramatically decrease health care expenditures, both from the standpoint of treating acute pain and through avoiding addiction to opioids that requires costly care, destroys quality of life, and can lead to fatal overdose.

Numerous federal regulatory agencies have advised or mandated that healthcare systems and providers offer non-pharmacologic treatment options for pain. Acupuncture stands out as the most evidence-based, immediately available choice to fulfill these calls. Acupuncture is already being successfully and meaningfully utilized by the Veterans Administration and various branches of the U.S. Military, in some studies demonstrably decreasing the volume of opioids prescribed when included in care.

Mechanisms underlying acupuncture’s analgesic effects have been extensively researched for over 60 years. Acupuncture has been shown in studies to be effective for the alleviation of inflammatory, neuropathic, cancer related, and visceral pain. Mechano-transduction of the needling stimulus at specific points on the body triggers the release of ATP and adenosine, which bind to local afferents. Among the non-opioid neuropeptides, substance P, vasoactive intestinal peptide, and calcitonin gene-related peptide have been investigated for their roles in both the analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects of acupuncture. What all that science means is that acupuncture analgesia activates the production and release of endogenous opioids like endorphins. It is proven that acupuncture, used in conjunction with Opioid Like Medications (see Corydalis), alleviates pain with a lower OLM dose for patients.

So there it is; acupuncture and herbal medicines with absolutely no harmful side effects, that are cost effective, readily available and already active in a community near you. Dr. Robert Kienitz has been successfully treating patients with pain, addictions and any combinations thereof for over twenty five years and looks forward to working ever more as the needs continue to arise.

Yours in good health,

Robert Kienitz, DTCM

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