The transformation of acupuncturists from things to beings as subjects of research – from modality to whole system professionals – got a big boost at the June 26-29, 2019 Society for Acupuncture Research (SAR) conference. The alchemical stew for which SAR board member Robert Davis, LAc, MS was master chef began with the conference’s real world, policy, and payment focus. A Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI)-funded process for which Davis’ conference co-chair Remy Coeytaux, MD is primary investigator focused attention on implementation and dissemination. Past SAR board president Helene Langevin, MD, who stepped down from the SAR board when she began service as director of the NIH National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), announced intentions for a precedent-setting initiative on whole systems research. In this mix, the acupuncturist as a whole professional flowered both as research target and as a potentially more valued participant in a reformed system for health care.
The number of acupuncturists employed in federally qualified health centers (FQHC) is no longer negligible yet still far from routine. The number who have that experience and have also served their state as members of technology review panels charged to evaluate the science behind non-pharma approaches to pain may be just one. The person doing both in what is essentially a national pilot program in the state of Oregon is Laura Ocker, LAc. I got in touch with Ocker, the past president of the Oregon Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (OAAOM, for an acupuncture practitioner’s perspective on practicing in the context of the controversial program that led national pain leader Sean Mackey, MD, PhD` to spark a national campaign to limit its expansion. While not fond of the spotlight, Ocker agreed to share some of her experience as part of this ongoing Integrator series.
Shortly after my recent post, “How the Backlash to Oregon’s Plan to Taper Opioids with Integrative Approaches Missed the Mark”, I received an e-note from national pain leader Sean Mackey, MD, PhD. The letterhead of the chief of the division of pain medicine at Stanford University and co-chair of the US HHS National Pain Strategy was the vehicle through which Mackey and 100 co-signers successfully campaigned for the Oregon Health Authority to prevent forced tapering “of certain patient populations.” Mackey wrote that he presumed we had shared interests in bettering care, yet he thought there was a harmful “negativity” in my article: “May I suggest rather than a ‘missed opportunity’ message, you could easily frame it as ‘forced opioid tapering defeated – here is what we need to do next …'”
When Oregon announced in 2016 that it would shift its back and neck care for Medicaid clients from opioids toward acupuncture, spinal manipulation, massage, yoga therapy and mind-body methods, it was heralded as a breakthrough for pain treatment nationally. Inside that policy was a mandate many now consider even bigger news. Doctors were required to totally taper patients off opioids. A backlash propelled by a letter signed by over 100 conventional pain academics nationwide – plus with one notable signer from the integrative pain community – stopped Oregon’s planned expansion of the model in its tracks. While there are good reasons for caution on mandatory tapering, the one-sided reactivity missed a chance for practitioners and patients alike to gain more experience with non pharmacologic tools to rein in the known abuses associated with opioids.