The long road to awareness: FDA seeks to formalize the inevitable

On May 10th, the US Food and Drug Administration released a proposal for what primary healthcare providers should know and share with their patients about integrative medicine as it pertains to pain management (1).

It's a addendum actually, to recommendations the agency put together in 2011 in response to the United States' escalating problem with overuse and abuse of prescribed pharmaceuticals. The problem isn't only that prescriptions get abused, but also that for some people, opioid painkillers are so addictive they sometimes serve as a gateway to abuse of non-prescribed drugs, too. In Ohio last year, a record 3,050 residents died from fatal drug overdoses. Most of those deaths were from heroine or legal painkillers like Fentanyl (2). Fentanyl is the legal and very powerful prescription drug that killed the singer Prince.

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services states quite dryly, that: 

"Opioid abuse is a serious public health issue.
Drug overdose deaths are the leading cause of injury death in the United States."

The FDA believes that if physicians are educated about non-pharmacologic alternatives to pain management— and share that information with their patients— a broader, more inclusive, and potentially healthier approach might replace the singular stranglehold drugs have on patients' consciousness— before addiction takes place. The fact is, acupuncture and chiropractic care, which the FDA also added to its recommendation, are drug-free therapies that provide pain relief for many people, but are historically left out of the conversation in physician's offices. For the most part, patients have been left to explore and discover non-pharmaceutical therapies on their own, which only reinforces the idea of a separation of traditional and integrative care.

“[Health care providers] should be knowledgeable about the range of available therapies, when they may be helpful, and when they should be used as part of a multidisciplinary approach to pain management,” says the FDA in its proposal.

This development is welcome news to providers of integrative therapies that have been traditionally marginalized by Western medicine, but these recommendations haven't been adopted as official protocol as yet. The FDA is accepting public comment on its proposal through July 10th. It is a small thing just to be included in the health care conversation, but a really important step in the right direction for providing thoughtful and appropriate health care for everyone.

The best news is that this move by the FDA isn't really all that ground breaking. There's been a spate of recent articles highlighting how Western medicine serves patients better when integrating therapies once thought of as being alternative. From Shakopee Hospital and Owatonna Hospital in Minnesota, to world-renknown Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center in Boston, hospitals around the country are seeing how acupuncture can assist and improve patient care before, during and after traditional treatments.

“They think what we do is hocus pocus, and we don’t do hocus pocus.”

– Dr. Marcia Prenguber, University of Bridgeport; Massachusetts 

A terrific article from Connecticut Magazine explains the inevitable rise of integrative medicine, for problems ranging from substance abuse to better care for cancer patients. “The health care market needs it, the patients want choices,” says Dr. David M. Brady, Vice President for Health Sciences at the University of Bridgeport. “They don’t want just drugs and surgery, they want more comprehensive solutions to their chronic health challenges.” 



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RELATED: Drug makers push back on limiting access to their products:

Getting in the Game with Integrative Medicine

For many people, ya gotta see it to believe it. And everybody did. Those dark circles dotting the backs and shoulders of the Olympic swimmers caught everyone's attention...and suddenly practitioners all over the country were inundated with inquiries about cupping. Rebecca was among those interviewed for a story on the phenomenon in the Chicago Tribune. She and Lisa, Revital and Jennifer have all kept busy cupping in the weeks after the Olympic games, and now we're beginning to see those clients again, and they're bringing referrals, too.

Cupping isn't new of course, nor are any of the other therapies available at Healing Foundations—and Chinese Medicine isn't new to sports, either. If you follow us on Facebook, you know that along with scientific findings, goings on and a few pretty pictures, we like to share links to stories about pro athletes like the NBA's Pao Gasol and a few of the (numerous) players in the NFL who rely on acupuncture to stay in the game. Along with other acupuncture stories, we'll occasionally even throw a non-sports celebrity or animal story into the mix (some of the more peculiar stories involve both).


Athletes have a heightened awareness of their bodies and the utmost interest in getting and staying healthy.  
They don't dabble, and they don't take chances with it.


What's great about athletes is that they have a vested interest in maintaining their optimal health, and for better or worse, people watch and follow them. The influence of sports isn't limited to t.v. and social media. Advances in orthopedics, technology, and even nutrition that originated in athletics have greatly influenced the general public. We're not talking "breakfast of champions" here; we're talking about surgical and rehabilitation techniques, plus better safety and training practices for youth, weekend athletes, and armchair athletes, too.

We don't advocate basing your healthcare on what you see on television, but it's only natural that if someone who inspires and exposes you to something new, you're likely to take notice and engage in conversations about it that you might not have otherwise. Being aware and informed about your choices is crucial—and smart. Being "in the game" may not mean becoming an athlete, it may just mean being educated on all your options. We at Healing Foundations are healers, not pro athletes. Still, we hope that our care and the therapies we offer are part of your heath and wellness agenda.

We're thrilled when our clients talk about their experiences at Healing Foundations, but even if we'd bought a Super Bowl commercial, we doubt we could have created as much buzz and as many conversations about integrative therapies as those polka-dots upon expanses of those barely-covered Olympic bodies, and we love them for it.

When alternative becomes alterna-not: choice, integration, and health will prosper.

“I don’t know how it works, but it works.” That’s what a patient said today when they called to book an acupuncture appointment. Three thoughts come to mind. First and foremost, acupuncture had relieved the condition this patient had been suffering from and the experience prompted them to seek out treatment again. Second; do we as patients always understand exactly how medicine works? And lastly; if it works, does it really count as "alternative?"
In the United States, more than 67% of office visits to physicians of Western medicine involved drug therapy(1). Do we know—really know—each drug’s chemical makeup, which organ excretes what hormone in response, the chain of reaction that causes our condition—or symptoms of that condition—to improve? Does not knowing impact our belief or investment in them? Western medicine and pharmaceuticals save and improve the quality of people’s lives, but like all forms of medicine, it's a marriage of art and science. Dosages are adjusted and alternatives are explored. There are undesirable side effects. On the whole and as a culture however, we have tremendous faith in the system of Western medicine: at any given time, 48% of the U.S. population is using at least one prescription drug (1).
Slowly, the American experience is changing. In recent months we’ve posted numerous articles to the Healing Foundations Facebook page about the growing presence of acupuncture on the healthcare landscape. The U.S. military is using and expanding acupuncture for the treatment of PTSD and chronic pain (2). Among its many studies involving acupuncture and other integrative medicine (3), Yale Medical School is engaged in a fifteen-year research project to reconcile Eastern and Western medicine theologies by applying modern scientific research standards to Traditional Chinese Medicine in the treatment of liver, pancreatic and colorectal cancers. The results have been extremely promising (4).

It is time for all stakeholders making or influencing health and medical care decisions to step back, take a collective breath, and consider what they can do to restructure the highly reductionist biomedical approach to health, illness, and disease that continues to fall short of meeting the needs of many Americans...
Dan Cherkin, PhD.

This past March, The Journal of the American Medical Association published a paper by Dr. Dan Cherkin (5) that said what many have thought but were previously afraid to say: "Hold up a minute! What are we doing, here?" Cherkin's call to inaction was in response to a randomized controlled trial examining the value of mindfulness-based stress reduction for people with low back pain. The findings showed that the alternative treatments were no more effective than sham treatments—and that's what the people picked up on: that the "alternative" medicine wasn't worth anything because it was no more effective than fake treatment. Except...neither was the traditional treatment. No treatment proved better than the sham treatment: not "standard," not "alternative." Huffington Post did a good job of summarizing the scenario, but regretfully— they buried the story in the "Healthy Living" section (6).

Sure, we would have been very happy to share the news if the study had proven that acupuncture or another "non-Western" therapy had outperformed other methods, but the story the results tells is actually quite amazing. Science is finally proving that alternative is alterna-not. 

We're confident in the scientific future of acupuncture and other holistic therapies: no one methodology will have an upper hand. The future is integrative, not separatist. Western medicine and all it's miracles will join forces and work hand-in-hand with holistic practices to decrease pain and side effects, and improve the lives of everyone. And that is all we could ask for. 

Healing Foundations
Acupuncture and integrative holistic health, since 2011.