Study finds acupuncture shows promise for treating cocaine addiction

August 12, 2000

In the continuing search for an effective therapy for cocaine addiction, acupuncture, an ancient Chinese therapy, combined with modern Western treatments, may hold promise.

In the August 14/28 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine, researchers repoort that cocaine dependent patients who received a course of auricular acupuncture (acupuncture needles inserted into four specific points in the outer ear) were more likely to be free of cocaine during treatment than those not receiving acupuncture.

"This study shows that there may be merit in using acupuncture in combanation with other therapies as a treatment for cocaine addiction," said Dr. Alan I. Leshner, Director, National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

The research team led by Arthur Margolin, Ph.D., at Yale University School of Medicine, conducted a clincal trial enrolling 82 dually-addicted participants. These individuals were being treated with methadone for their heroin addiction and were referred to the study due to their unremitting cocaine use. Participants were randomly assigned to one of three groups: auricular acupuncture; "control" acupuncture (needles inserted into four ear points not thought to have a treatment effect); or a relaxation group (in which patients viewed commercially available video tapes, depicting relaxing imagery such as nature scenes). The treatment sessions were provided five times a week for eight weeks. Urine samples were taken three times a week to assess cocaine use.

Findings showed that participants who received auricular acupuncture were more likely to provide cocaine-negative urine screens over the course of the study compared to participants in either control group. Among the participants who completed the study, more than half of the acupuncture patients (53.8 percent) tested free of cocaine during the last week of treatment, compared to 23.5 percent of the control acupuncture group, and 9.1 percent of the relaxation group. Treatment completers receiving acupuncture also had longer periods of sustained abstinence compared to participants in the two control groups.

Of the 82 participants who started the study, 63 percent completed the eight-week trial. Thirteen of 28 (46 percent) completed auricular acupuncture; 17 of 27 (63 percent) completed the needle insertion control; and 22 or 27 (81 percent)completed the relaxation control. Those who received auricular acupuncture completed significantly fewer (5.2) treatment weeks compared to 6.7 weeks for control acupuncture and 7 weeks for the relaxation therapy control groups.

Dr.Margolin says, "This study provides support for the use of acupuncture for the treatment of cocaine addiction. Further research is needed to replicate these findings and to determine how acupuncture and other treatments can be most effectively combined."
Note to reporters: The full text of the paper, "A Randomized Controlled Trial of Auricular Acupuncture for Cocaine Dependence, (Arch Intern Med. 20-00; 160: 2305-2312) is available at or by calling the AMA's Science News Department at 312-464-5374.

NIH/National Institute on Drug Abuse

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