Acupuncture: A pain management alternative to opioids

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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) -- When it comes to these addictive medications, addiction often stems from being prescribed an drug like oxycodone, morphine or fentanyl to manage pain. But could finding pain management alternatives be a solution to ending the nationwide epidemic?

"They just need some sort of relief and they need options instead of the opiates," Cathy Chase said.

Cathy Chase is an acupuncturist in Madison at the Atwood Acupuncture Center. A millennia old Chinese practice, acupuncture is far from new.

"Acupuncture needles themselves are very tiny. They're a little bit thicker than a hair," Chase said.

Needles are placed in specific parts of the body to treat pain and other conditions. Chase says it's becoming a popular alternative to opioids.

"We also get to experience that benefit without having the side effects of the drugs and the potential risks of becoming addicted to a very addictive substance," Chase said.

Even state leaders acknowledge the need for drug alternatives to battle the crisis. 883 people in Wisconsin died from opioid overdoses in 2017.

"They are also helping us exert pressure to get insurance to cover things like chiropractic acupuncture other types of therapy that don’t involve painkillers," said Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel.

While acupuncture is endorsed by the American Pain Society, a lot of the science behind how or why it works is unclear. Acupuncturists still find themselves fighting for their place in the professional health community.

"I can see the skepticism that exists," Chase said. "But when we look at the body, we can actually measure the different places on the body where the electrical energy changes when we get near an acupuncture point."

The biggest skeptics left to convince, insurance companies and Medicare. While insurance plans in five states will cover acupuncture for pain, it isn't covered in the remaining 45 including Wisconsin. Instead, prescription pain killers are covered by health insurance.

"We’re trying to work with all of the different insurance companies to bring our part of the country up to that same standard of care," Chase said.

Wisconsin's Attorney General did not specify what specific steps are being taken to help get pain management alternatives covered by in-state insurance plans.