BERNALILLO — When it comes to addiction, needles are usually the last thing those in recovery expect to aid with their rehabilitation.
Yet, a therapeutic acupuncture program offered through Sandoval County implements needles for people attending prevention and intervention treatment programs.
Scott Patterson, clinical supervisor and mental health specialist for Sandoval County, said he supervises the treatment of individuals who are court-ordered or have self-selected to enter the county’s addiction rehabilitation program.
“We do a lot of group therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and with individual therapy, we use whatever the client needs,” Patterson said.
“Acu-detox” is just one of the many therapies Patterson offers individuals who enter his office, and it consists of using a light-gauge needle in five places on a person’s ear.
“This method can help people with the pain and discomfort of getting off of alcohol and drugs,” Patterson said. “Also, most of our clients that participate in this program have seen improvements in their sleep and they handle stress better.”
According to Patterson, his office uses National Acupuncture Detoxification Association protocols as guidelines of proven methods that can aid with addiction treatment.
“This protocol was developed in the early ’80s, specifically with individuals that were trying to get off of heroin,” Patterson said. “Soon, doctors noticed a really significant decrease in the use of methadone and the decrease in the re-use of heroin and decrease in relapse.”
The reason the county uses this method, he said, is because going “cold turkey” is painful and the reason for many relapses.
“We put five needles in each ear in specific spots that correspond to specific areas of the body,” he said.
Patterson added that he has an alternative for people who don’t like needles, that being a small piece of metal called an “acu-seed.”
“Acu-seeds can be placed in the same areas of the ear the needles would be placed without puncturing the skin,” he said.
Patterson said the feedback he’s received from participants is that they feel calmer after a treatment.
“A lot of times, people will tell us they haven’t been sleeping well, and after a treatment, they say they finally slept the entire night,” he said. “Human beings in general…when we are trying to change any habit, sleep is one of the first things affected.”
Zack Willis, participant in the acu-detox program, said being consistent is important when getting acupuncture treatments.
“You can’t expect it to work the very first time,” Willis said. “As a matter of fact, it is strange at first, it kind of hurts — it’s not supposed to, but anything going into your skin isn’t going to be too pleasant. But after repeated treatments, I’ve felt so much better.”
Willis said he was a skeptic when he began the treatments, feeling like he just got poked a bunch for nothing.
“You have to able to take the time to get multiple treatments and be honest and tell the acupuncturist where your pain is,” he said. “This type of treatment is slowly progressive.”
After his third session, Willis said he could feel the results of the treatment.
“I could sleep better, my cravings went down, and I was just generally calmer about life,” he said. “This is not some voodoo magic; it takes time to work like an antibiotic or multiple trips to the chiropractor…you have to give it time.”
In New Mexico, a certificate covers NADA training, including 40 hours of specialized training for the type of acupuncture Patterson practices.
“We learn all the spots and points and needle techniques as well as legal ramifications, and the history of this area of acupuncture,” Patterson said. “We also have a certain number of treatments we have to perform under the direct supervision of a licensed acupuncturist.”
Patterson said he did close to 300 supervised treatments before he received his certification to practice acupuncture on his own.
“I am still supervised to make sure I am practicing proper needle techniques and placement,” he said. “Just like any other profession, we are always learning, but I am pleased with our patients’ outlook on the treatment thus far.”