Acupuncture Is Promising Treatment for Cocaine Addiction, Yale Researchers Find

In the first such finding from a controlled study, Yale researchers have successfully used acupuncture to treat cocaine addiction, a disorder for which there are few effective treatments.

Published in the August 14 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine, study results showed that participants who received auricular acupuncture-needles inserted into specific parts of the outer ear-were more likely to have cocaine-negative urine screens over the course of the study compared to those in control groups.

“Our study supports the use of acupuncture for cocaine addiction and shows that alternative therapies can be combined with the arsenal of Western treatments for fighting addiction,” said Arthur Margolin, the study’s principal investigator and research scientist in psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine. “This promising finding suggests that further research on acupuncture in this application is warranted.”

Results showed that 54.8 percent of participants tested free of cocaine during the last week of treatment, compared to 23.5 and 9.1 percent in the two control groups. Those who completed acupuncture treatment also had longer periods of sustained abstinence compared to participants in the control groups.

“Additional benefits of acupuncture include its low cost, and that it seems to have few, if any, adverse side effects,” Margolin said.

The study included 82 participants who were addicted to both heroin and cocaine. They received methadone for their heroin addiction, but they continued to use cocaine. Participants were assigned to one of three groups: auricular acupuncture, “control” acupuncture-needles inserted into four ear points that aren’t thought to have a treatment effect-or a relaxation group, in which patients viewed videotapes depicting relaxing images such as nature scenes.

Participants had treatment five times a week for eight weeks. Urine samples were taken three times a week to assess cocaine use. In addition to the study treatments, participants also received individual and group counseling.

In view of the increasingly wide use of acupuncture and other forms of complementary and alternative medicine, Margolin said, it is important that these therapies be investigated in controlled clinical trials like his.

“If the groundwork for these studies is carefully developed, then we can conduct tests of alternative therapies that are both fair and rigorous,” said Margolin. “In addition, controlled clinical research of acupuncture is in its infancy, and while our positive findings are gratifying, further research is needed to replicate the results and to better understand how to combine acupuncture with existing treatments for addiction.

Margolin used the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association (NADA) treatment protocol. It consists of inserting 3 to 5 small needles in both outer ears. Needles remain in place for about 45 minutes. The NADA protocol is widely used in addiction treatment facilities and was developed at Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx, New York.

Additional researchers on the study were S. Kelly Avants, Department of Psychiatry; Theodore R. Holford, Department of Epidemiology and Public Health; and Thomas Kosten, M.D., Department of Psychiatry and the VA Connecticut Healthcare Center.

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