Local News

Avoiding opioids' risk of addiction, veterans turn to acupuncture

Posted February 6, 2018 4:24 p.m. EST
Updated July 13, 2018 2:07 p.m. EDT

— Many military veterans leave the service with chronic pain issues.

They are often prescribed narcotic pain relievers, which comes with a big risk of a dangerous addiction. But some veterans are finding relief with acupuncture.

Army veteran Jeff McGehee, 53, drives from Yanceyville, Virginia to Triangle Acupuncture around 12 times a year.

"It's worth the drive," she said.

Heavy lifting when he served in Korea 43 years ago led to severe chronic back pain.

For four years, doctors prescribed opioid pain relievers. But McGehee said it affected his energy and alertness.

Both McGehee and 53-year-old veteran Timothy Hall feared becoming addicted.

Avoiding opioid's risk of addiction, veterans turn to acupuncture

They learned that the VA Hospital had researched and approved a drug-free pain relief option for their patients.

Some acupuncture specialists are available in the VA system, but doctors can prescribe treatment in other approved facilities.

Acupuncturist Chris Helmstetter says in western medical circles - this art is now considered complimentary medicine, one with no risk of addiction.

So you could treat a lot of different conditions like digestive issues, insomnia or fertility problems, but it's especially effective for pain," Helmstetter said. "What I see a lot is not only do people feel better, but also they regain a certain segment of their life that they've been missing,"

Many patients are at first skeptical, but Hall said he kept an open mind.

"I was so willing to just find another way to deal with it. It almost shocked me that it, almost as instantaneous how effective it was," he said.

They say the pain relief lasts 1 to 2 weeks.

"I feel better. I'm more engaged in my family and I can go out and do things," McGehee said.

Acupuncturists said that the needles used in the therapy, inserted at specific points release endorphines, which is the body's natural hormone that has a pain-killing effect.