ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Acupuncturist Nityamo Lian, who spends much of her time inserting acupuncture needles into clients at a clinic in the Northeast Heights, traveled to the South Valley recently to another clinic, La Plazita Institute.
“Can you do my ears?” Lian said to Denise Griego de Angel, a curandera (Spanish for female healer) at La Plazita Institute.
Lian sat upright in a chair at the Institute, which provides social and community services. Then, after a few minutes of Griego de Angel’s bilateral handiwork, Lian relaxed for about 30 minutes with sterile acupuncture needles placed strategically in five key points in her ears.
Griego de Angel is one of the people Lian has trained to perform acudetox, a niche area of acupuncture in which needles are inserted only into clients’ outer ears to provide relaxation and calmness, and to help reduce chemical dependencies.
Traditional acupuncture, an ancient practice in which needles are inserted, painlessly or near-painlessly, into spots on the limbs and head as well, takes as long as three years to learn. But acudetox is a more specific practice that can be taught in about a week, with trainees learning only ear points in which to place needles.
After trainees complete an internship under the supervision of acupuncturists like Lian, they can perform the service for people who are withdrawing from cocaine, heroin and other drugs.
During Lian’s visit, Griego de Angel also offered acudetox to two women who reclined in chairs in a large open room. While they sat still, she inserted needles around the ridges of their ears.
Other facilities around Albuquerque where acudetox is offered for free or by donation include Healthcare for the Homeless and Casa de Salud.
It’s a practice supported by the Santa Fe-based New Mexico Board of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. “All treatment programs focused on disease prevention, harm reduction or the treatment or prevention of alcoholism, substance abuse or chemical dependency that are officially recognized by a federal, state or local government agency shall automatically be approved by the board,” an amendment on its website states.
Griego de Angel, who spent more than 30 hours over a four-day period to complete her training last May, estimates that she has needled about 200 people. “It falls in line with what we do already in helping people trying to heal themselves,” she said.
When asked what made her want to get the training, she said: “Since it’s helping people who are trying to prevent addiction, I thought it would be a perfect fit with what I’m already doing.” That includes providing bodywork, limpias, also known as an individual spiritual cleansing sometimes done by sweeping the body with herbs; cupping, a form of acupuncture where glass, bamboo or earthenware cups are placed on the skin to create suction that is said to mobilize blood flow to promote healing of medical ailments; and house blessings, in which the energy of the home environment is cleansed to generate blessings of peace, harmony and prosperity.
A motivator for her is clients’ positive feedback. Sometimes, she said, “when people have had it done, they come back and they say, ‘That’s the best I’ve slept in a long time.’ When I get good feedback from it, that helps me a lot.”
According to Lian, more than 170 people have been trained to become acudetox specialists in New Mexico, with more than half of them already certified by the Board of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. More than 20 acupuncturists statewide have been approved by the board to serve as supervisors to trainees, and of them 10 are, like her, actively supervising.
In one study she provided the board in 2012, 20 clients rated from one to five their feelings in 10 areas before and after their treatments, including back pain, depression, irritability, cravings, anxiety, stress and other challenges. “Clients showed the largest average change in levels of stress, anxiety and irritability levels with an average improvement of 2 or more points before and after treatment,” the study showed.
According to the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association, the prevalence and appropriateness of acupuncture for addictions is well-established. “The U.S. federal government’s Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, the United Nations, the State of New Mexico, as well as the U.S. Department of Defense/Veteran’s Affairs have each published best practice guidelines that address the value of acupuncture for chemical dependency,” the site states.
A study published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, titled Acupuncture Heroin Detoxification: A Single Blind Trial, randomly assigned 100 addicted people to get either acudetox treatments or sham treatments with ear points that weren’t on target. Although the study had a high drop-out rate, it found that “subjects assigned to the standard treatment attended the acupuncture clinic more days and stayed in treatment longer than those assigned to the sham condition.”