Electroacupuncture may be safe and effective to reduce the use of opioid medications in patients with chronic musculoskeletal pain, according to a study published in Pain Medicine.

A total of 108 adult participants from 3 pain clinics and from the general public were recruited for this randomized blinded 3-arm trial. Criteria for participation included opioid use to treat chronic pain. All participants received pain and medication management education and were then randomly assigned to receive electroacupuncture (n=48), sham electroacupuncture (n=29), or pain and medication management education (n=31) for a period of 12 weeks. Patients in the group that had only received education were also treated with electroacupuncture at the 3-month follow up.

Opioid dosage was significantly reduced in patients who had received real and sham electroacupuncture (electroacupuncture: 20.5% reduction, P <.05; sham electroacupuncture: 13.7% reduction, P <.01; education: 4.5% reduction).  Other outcomes, including pain intensity, dosage of nonopioid analgesics, and function were comparable in the 3 groups. Upon receiving electroacupuncture after the initial 12-week period, participants in the education-only group had a 47% reduction in opioid use. 

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“It may be necessary to identify those who tolerate and respond to [electroacupuncture] because in the current study about 50% of those who completed [electroacupuncture] had a sustained reduction in opioid medication even after termination of [electroacupuncture]. This group requires further study to identify the factors that contribute to the sustained response,” noted the study authors.

Multiple authors declare receiving grant support or having close affiliations with the trial sites. Please refer to the reference for a complete list of authors’ disclosures.

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Zheng Z, Gibson S, Helme RD, et al. Effects of electroacupuncture on opioid consumption in patients with chronic musculoskeletal pain: a multicenter randomized controlled trial [published July 8, 2018]. Pain Medicine. doi: 10.1093/pm/pny113