Lakeridge Health’s Pinewood Centre helps improve lives one needle at a time

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Over the years, John* waged a private battle with the bottle, but when he began abusing prescription medication, the retired police officer knew it was time to seek professional help. Today, he’s enjoying one of his longest periods of sobriety and credits a withdrawal management program – formerly known as “detox” – that includes Auricular Acupuncture.

“Acupuncture has been very helpful in fighting the cravings,” John says of the complementary treatment he receives at Lakeridge Health’s Pinewood Centre Residential Withdrawal Management Services (RWMS). “It’s certainly relaxing and keeps you grounded. I come as often as I can.”

Auricular Acupuncture involves the insertion of five very fine, sterile needles into specific points of each ear: Sympathetic, Shen Men, Kidney, Liver and Lung. In Chinese medicine, each of these points has a physical, emotional and spiritual benefit.

“I checked into Pinewood Centre because I couldn’t stop drinking and was abusing medication prescribed for arthritis and chronic pain. When my counsellor suggested I incorporate Auricular Acupuncture into my treatment, I thought I’d give it a try,” says John. He credits 10 sessions of Auricular Acupuncture with helping him achieve two months of abstinence to date, saying it reduces his anxiety while increasing his motivation.

Auricular Acupuncture for the treatment of drug and alcohol problems was developed in 1974 at the Lincoln Hospital in New York’s South Bronx. Known worldwide as the NADA (National Acupuncture Detoxification Association) protocol, it’s proven very effective in providing physical and emotional relief associated with unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, anxiety and cravings/urges to use substances. It’s also effective in alleviating symptoms of depression, sleep disturbances, body aches, headaches, nausea, sweating and muscle cramping.

The Withdrawal Management Association of Ontario recognizes Auricular Acupuncture as a valuable, complementary treatment. Lakeridge Health’s Pinewood Centre has been offering the treatment three times a week since June 2009 and makes it available to all RWMS clients. The only prerequisite is a willingness to try, says Clinical Coordinator Cindy Brown Primeau, an Acu Detox Specialist.

A veteran addictions counsellor with 26 years of experience at Pinewood, she gives Auricular Acupuncture rave reviews. “A lot of our clients have been involved with treatment before and are discouraged or aren’t ready to make changes. This is a nice entry point into engaging treatment – there’s no disclosure, no commitment or expectations.

“In a lot of ways, it’s a nurturing treatment,” Brown Primeau adds. “Clients feel attended to, they feel respected and notice an improvement in their symptoms, which is a huge motivator. When someone is feeling better, they’re more likely to take the next step in their treatment plan.”

Thanks largely to word of mouth, attendance has grown from just a handful of clients to an average of 18 per session. Treatment is offered in group settings in order to build support among those being treated and break down feelings of isolation.

The needles remain in the ear for 20-45 minutes, during which time clients remain seated and listen to soft music; some clients become so relaxed that they fall asleep. Client questionnaires are circulated weekly to track improvements in symptoms, use of substances and continued involvement in treatment.

“Many of our clients tell us it helps reduce their anxiety and cravings to use substances,” reports Addiction Counsellor and Discharge Planner Carole LeBreton. As a recent Acu Detox Specialist and addictions counsellor at Pinewood for 22 years, she’s equally impressed with the treatment. “Clients report an improved sense of well being and feel more optimistic. They’re sleeping better and find the acupuncture helps with headaches and depression.”

Jane*, a single mother, has had more than 20 treatments of Auricular Acupuncture and says it’s helping her fight a long list of demons that includes alcohol, marijuana and cocaine abuse. She first went to Pinewood for withdrawal management and has returned twice for relapse prevention. “I’ve lost many relationships, including my teenage son,” she admits. But Auricular Acupuncture is making a difference. “I’m sleeping better and my cravings aren’t as bad as they once were,” Jane says. “I often come for treatment emotionally wired up and leave feeling relaxed. I definitely notice a difference if I miss a treatment.”

Brown Primeau and LeBreton look forward to expanding the program over the next year. “We’re seeing instant results,” says LeBreton. “Auricular Acupuncture has been a true asset to Lakeridge Health’s Pinewood Centre.”

*Patient names used in this article are fictitious to respect their privacy.