FINDING HOPE: Using acupuncture to live opioid-free

BOISE - As more and more people learn of the potential addictive side effects of prescription painkillers, many Idahoans suffering from pain are looking for alternatives to opioid medications. Some are even weaning themselves completely off prescription drugs by using acupuncture.

Acupuncturists use a specific protocol dealing with five points in the ears that's shown to help some patients detoxing off opioids. The NADA protocol aims to help with anxiety, irritability, and relaxation by connecting with the liver, kidney, and lungs.

Nampa veteran Mark Deba now swears by the needle-based treatment, crediting acupuncture with his ability to wean himself completely off prescription painkillers.

"My honest opinion is if it wasn't for the acupuncture, I don't know what I would do," he said.

Deba spent nearly 10 years of his life taking Vicodin and Percoset daily - as prescribed - to treat chronic pain.

"All the medication would do is mask the pain, and I would get some relief for about 4-6 hours and then it was time to take another dose of the medication," Deba said. He began building a tolerance, eventually increasing his dose, and the side effects just lead to more medications.

"After a while, I just felt like it wasn't hitting me," Deba said. 

So, many years ago, at the advice of a friend, Deba decided to try acupuncture. Like many, he was skeptical at first but says he saw results right away.

"I felt something change in my body. I felt like energy, something happened, some kind of connection took place!" Deba explained. "It seemed to unblock those issues that I was having through my body. I could literally feel from my toes to my kneecap something tingling in between, and I could feel after the treatment was done, I had no more pain in that area!" 

That connection - simply put - is reinvigorating blood flow to certain organs of the body.

"I like to think of the needles as antennas that are communicating with your brain, and receiving communication from your brain about what needs to happen in your body to get healthy," Shanell Rodriguez from the Boise Acupuncture Co-Op said. "You might have a sensation of dullness, achiness, or throbiness, and that's considered therapeutic. Most people feel really relaxed and they take a little nap."

Although it's been used to treat pain for centuries in Asia, acupuncture is relatively new to the United States, only being used for the past few decades.

"The medical profession is really picking up on this and using it more and more," Alan Shaw at St. Luke's in Meridian said. He regularly uses acupuncture to relieve pain for cancer patients.

"So with an acupuncture point in the hand, I can address problems with the teeth, I can address problems with the lower abdomen, with the low back and with circulation in the feet," Shaw said.

Mark Deba even uses the acupuncture to treat his PTSD and sleep disturbances, and now, it's been eight months since he took an opioid.

"I feel great! I'm telling you, the acupuncture is working! It really is."

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