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Journal of Integrative Medicine ›› 2021, Vol. 19 ›› Issue (4): 295-299.doi: 10.1016/j.joim.2021.03.006

• Commentary • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Can eastern wisdom resolve western epidemics? Traditional chinese medicine therapies and the opioid crisis

Thomas Effertha,, An-long Xub, Roxana Damiescua, Mita Banerjeec, Norbert W. Pauld, David Y.W. Leee   

  1. a Department of Pharmaceutical Biology, Institute of Pharmacy and Biochemistry, Johannes Gutenberg University, 55128 Mainz, Germany
    b School of Life Science, Beijing University of Chinese Medicine, Beijing 100029, China
    c Department of American Studies, Obama Institute, Johannes Gutenberg University, 55128 Mainz, Germany
    d Institute for the History, Philosophy, and Ethics of Medicine, Johannes Gutenberg University Medical Center, 55131 Mainz, Germany
    e Harvard Medical School, McLean Hospital, Boston, MA 02115, USA
  • Received:2019-09-17 Accepted:2021-02-02 Online:2021-08-15 Published:2021-03-23

The widespread use of opioids to treat chronic pain led to a nation-wide crisis in the United States. Tens of thousands of deaths annually occur mainly due to respiratory depression, the most dangerous side effect of opioids. Non-opioid drugs and non-pharmacological treatments without addictive potential are urgently required. Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is based on a completely different medical theory than academic Western medicine. The scientific basis of acupuncture and herbal treatments as main TCM practices has been considerably improved during the past two decades, and large meta-analyses with thousands of patients provide evidence for their efficacy. Furthermore, opinion leaders in the United States favour non-pharmacological techniques including TCM for pain management to fight the opioid crisis. We advocate TCM as therapeutic option without addictive potential and without life-threatening side effects (e.g., respiratory depression) to treat chronic pain patients suffering from opioid misuse. The evidence suggests that: (1) opioid misuse cannot be satisfactorily managed with standard medication; (2) opinion leaders in the United States favour to consider non-opioid and non-pharmacological treatment strategies including those from TCM to treat acute and chronic pain conditions; (3) large meta-analyses provide scientific evidence for the clinical activity of acupuncture and herbal TCM remedies in the treatment of chronic pain. Future clinical trials should demonstrate the safety of TCM treatments if combined with Western medical practices to exclude negative interactions between both modalities.

Key words: Traditional Chinese medicine, Acupuncture, Addiction, Opioid crisis, Pain

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