Acupuncture & Other Alternative Medicine Reducing Use of Pain Killers in the Army

Acupuncture and other forms of alternative and complementary medicine are helping reduce the use of opioids to block pain in Army patients, the service’s assistant surgeon general said in a report.

Brig. Gen. Norvell V. Coots, deputy commanding general of the U.S. Army Medical Command and assistant surgeon general for force projection, testified Wednesday, at a hearing of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee about overmedication concerns.

In 2011, 26 percent of all service members were prescribed at least one type of opioid medication, but this number was brought down to 24 percent last year, partly due to the use of acupuncture, yoga and other alternatives to medication, Coots said.

“It is a small difference, but I think it still represents a big cultural change and a move ahead,” he told the committee.

Army Medicine has been working to change its culture since 2010, when the Pain Management Task Force issued recommendations, including acupuncture, meditation and biofeedback, according to Coots, who explained the Army has had a large upswing in the use of alternative medicine in the past few years and its use has been written into the Army’s Comprehensive Pain Management Campaign.

“All the statistics are showing now that with a big push for cultural change with integration of these alternative modalities, that we’re seeing a downturn in opioid usage across the military, particularly across the Army,” Coots told the committee.

Robert Petzel, under secretary for Health, Department of Veterans Affairs, also testified at the hearing. He said VA has added chiropractic care, massages, mindfulness meditation, exercise therapy and relaxation therapies to its treatment plan for pain.

“The burden of pain on veterans is considerable,” Petzel said.

In a written statement to the committee, Coots and his co-author Col. Kevin T. Galloway, Army Pain Management program director, also pointed out that Interdisciplinary Pain Management Centers, known as IPMCs, are being established at each of the Army’s eight medical centers. The IPMCs will be staffed by a multidisciplinary team of providers working to rehabilitate patients through a program that includes alternative treatments, according to the report.

“Treating pain is one of medicine’s oldest and most fundamental responsibilities, yet modern medicine continues to struggle in its efforts to understand pain mechanisms and to relieve pain and suffering of our patients,” Coots said.

The Centers for Disease Control identified prescription medication abuse as an “epidemic” in the United States, Coots said, adding “The military is not immune to these challenges.¬†Effective solutions must involve innovative strategies, comprehensive solutions and collaborative efforts,” Coots told the senators.