PORTSMOUTH – Alternatives to opioids is something on everyone’s mind, given the current epidemic of abuse New Hampshire is facing and one agency is taking on the challenge.
Greater Seacoast Community Health, which represents a merger between Families First in Portsmouth and Goodwin Community Health in Somersworth is a “spoke” in the state’s Hub and Spoke initiative, intended to address the opioid crisis.
GSCH has received a $1.45 million SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services) grant intended to enhance existing services and add new ones in efforts to address substance abuse and mental health services offered at both locations. The grant gives the agencies $502,729 in year one, and $476,172 in years two and three.
Acupuncture is part of the SAMHSA grant and acupuncturist Elizabeth Nelson has been hired for the service. It is not a standalone service but will complement the primary care and behavioral health services, according to Margie Wachtel, communication director for GSCH.
“In addition to SUD, some of the primary conditions that Liz will be addressing are chronic pain, stress and anxiety,” said Wachtel. “Liz’s position is funded by a grant we received recently (for the first time) from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, to expand our Medication-Assisted Recovery services.”
Nelson came to GSCH from work with veterans who have post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). She said she was trained in the procedure at the Atlantic Institute of Oriental Medicine in Florida and the Lincoln Recovery Center in the Bronx, New York.
Nelson uses NADA (National Acupuncture Detoxification Association) ear acupuncture on both groups.
“It works well on stress, on helping people get better sleep, and on decreasing the desire for substances like drugs, alcohol and even cigarettes,” said Nelson. “People with PTSD and substance abuse may have anger and anxiety. No one wants to be addicted. They can have social isolation issues. Acupuncture releases stress, emotional trauma and that makes it easier to make connections. They have better track records of staying in programs.”
Nelson does her work in groups. Her clients sit together for 45 minutes, with five needles in each ear. They can talk and listen to relaxing music.
“Some of the people are afraid of needles, so we sometimes call them pins,” said Nelson.
So how does it work?
“Acupuncture releases endorphins, the body’s feel-good chemicals,” said Nelson. “Drugs are chemicals released into the body. When a person stops using, they can feel sluggish and tired. Acupuncture gives them a euphoric feeling and has been around since the 1970s as a treatment for addiction. It is used in some states in drug courts, in prisons. I am happy to have the opportunity to bring this here. I truly believe in the success of the treatments. I have seen it in my patients. I love that it is holistic, that it doesn’t involve hooking people on another drug.”
Beth Pearson, project director for the grant, said it has specific goals.
“The programs we are enhancing existed before the grant,” said Pearson “The grant will help us to increase services and outreach, and to enhance what is already in place.”
Pearson said acupuncture was added and approved after the grant had already been approved.
“We were looking at acupuncture as an alternative treatment for substance abuse disorders,” said Pearson. “We know a lot of our clients got involved with opioids because they had chronic pain issues. Acupuncture can help treat both conditions, so it was an easy choice and SAMHSA approved the addition to the grant specifics.”
The grant also supports the work of SOS Recovery Services, which is a part of GSCH. Pearson said it will help fund things like recovery coach training.
“And people who are in our IOP (Intensive Outpatient program) will also be offered the acupuncture service,” said Pearson. “We are excited about this. Not many others are yet offering acupuncture for SUD treatment. Eventually we hope to add a physical therapist, but we have not hired one yet. We plan to track the outcomes to see how effective this new treatment will be.”
Nelson, LAC, RN, is a licensed Acupuncturist and a board-certified Diplomate of Acupuncture through the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. She is a certified Acupuncture Detox Specialist through the National Acupuncture Detox Association. She has practiced acupuncture since 2004, including volunteering her skills to help victims of natural disasters and shootings.
The acupuncture service is currently only available for patients who also come to Goodwin Community Health or Families First for primary care and/or recovery services. Currently (for space reasons), the treatment is only offered at the Somersworth location (Goodwin), but it is open to Families First patients.