Opioid users resort to natural remedies to fight addiction | KOB 4

Opioid users resort to natural remedies to fight addiction

Jen French
December 20, 2017 03:55 PM

SANTA FE, N.M. -- Prescription opioids create a deadly dependency. Some are aching to find an alternative to the prescribed painkiller.


To some, getting punctured with needles to stop the pain may seem counterintuitive. At first, Greg Vialpando was skeptical about acupuncture.

"I didn't believe him," Vialpando said. "I was a jerk to him [the acupuncturist]."

Doubtful but desperate, Vialpando was willing to try anything. He said he was addicted to prescription painkillers and going through withdrawals.

"You're up for three to four days," Vialpando said. "You’re vomiting all of the time. You feel like your feet are going to come up through your -- it’s just really hard."

After Vialpando hurt his back while working at a car repair shop 17 years ago, his doctor prescribed him opioids. After eight back surgeries and 12 years of taking pain medications, he got hooked.

"It's not helping," Vialpando said. "Take a little bit more of it. You just up the dose more. Up the dose more so then you're never going to get off. It's going to be harder to get off. You're going to go through withdrawals even worse because of it."

It wasn’t until Vialpando tried acupuncture and medical marijuana in 2012 that he stopped using opioids. Mountain Spirit Integrated Medicine, a holistic wellness center that has acupuncture practitioners, has doubled its number of patients since people started becoming aware of the opioid epidemic.

Dorothy Lynch also gets acupuncture to avoid pain. She has spondylolisthesis, a spinal disorder where one of her vertebrae has slipped.

"I was told with or without surgery you could not be able to walk, so the risks were 50/50," Lynch said.

Instead of going under the knife, Lynch chose to go under needles.

"Some people think the needles hurt. The needles do not hurt," she said.

Before doctor of oriental medicine and licensed acupuncturist Brandon Taylor started performing acupuncture on patients like Vialpando and Lynch, he was a drug counselor in California. He claims other physicians often prescribed his clients in recovery opioids.

"Why are we giving people a bunch of drugs who are trying to get off drugs?" Taylor said.

It's why Taylor is urging more pain patients to try a drug-free remedy.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, opioids mimic the brain's neurotransmitters and block pain and flood the brain with dopamine, a chemical that gives us pleasure. The pleasurable feelings are why some people take the drugs repeatedly.

New Mexico Department of Health Epidemiologist Michael Landon said it can be deadly.

"Opioids suppress the respiratory system," he said. "If you get too much opioid on board, you can basically stop respirations, so people stop breathing"

After a record number of opioid-related deaths in New Mexico in 2014, even the Department of Health is urging people to opt for natural ways to treat chronic pain.

According to the DOH, New Mexico doctors in 2013 wrote more opioid prescriptions than ever -- 3.4 million. One year later, the number of prescription opioid drug overdoses peaked; 273 New Mexicans died from the very pills doctors prescribe. The deaths outnumbered heroin, meth, cocaine, benzodiazepines and alcohol overdose deaths.

The CDC is now recommending people with pain to try natural remedies before resorting to opioids. Landon said there are a number of readily available pain killers that are viable alternatives to opioids.

"Tylenol or Advil. They could include potentially acupuncture, chiropractic treatment, physical therapy, treatments that are not as potentially harmful as opioids," he said.

Though Medicaid doesn’t pay for acupuncture, New Mexico recognizes acupuncture as a treatment for chronic pain. Some providers, like Brandon Young, offer discounts to Medicaid patients.

"Don't be skeptical," Vialpando said. “Try it. You have to try it. It's better than dying."

For patients with limited income, there are various community acupuncture providers in the state that charge $15 to $50 per treatment.


New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas said Wednesday he added new defendants to his lawsuit against opioid companies. He believes the companies are responsible for the opioid epidemic the state.

The new companies added to the lawsuit include Noramco, once a subsidiary of Johnson and Johnson; Mallinckrodt; and Insys Therapeutics.

~KOB.com Web Staff


Jen French

Copyright 2017 KOB-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved


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