On May 7-10, 2019, I attended the top international integrative health research conference that comes around each year. The 14th International Congress on Complementary Medicine Research drew roughly 400 “delegates” as the Brisbane, Australia hosts welcomed us. We hailed from 34 nations. The turnout to the distant location was about half that when the meeting is hosted in North America or Europe and roughly on par with a 2015 South Korean event. Yet despite or perhaps because of the size and distance new themes emerged and old ones that needed prodding re-emerged. Together these offer an impactful direction for the global integrative research community and for ISCMR, the organization of traditional, complementary and integrative medicine researchers that co-sponsors each of these event.
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.
For the past half decade, the Academy of Integrative Pain Management (AIPM) has carried the policy mantle for integrative pain treatment into ever more influential places. The beacons were the 2017 and 2018 Integrative Pain Care Policy Congress. The most recent convened 70 stakeholder organizations, including key payers and federal agencies. On January 29, 2019, AIPM announced that it has ceased operations. Amidst the present opportunities for transforming pain treatment, the integrative pain field lost its engine. Oddly, the very challenges to the pharma industry in the center of the dominant pain model were part of AIPM’s undoing.
At one point over the past three years of robust expansion of dialogue related to chronic pain care I received a somewhat panicky email from an integrative care advocate. He was concerned that by me speaking of the “opportunity” for integrative health produced by the US’ enthrallment with opioids that his field would be tainted as “opportunists.” Fact is, the dialogue over right use of “non-pharmacologic” practices and practitioners in chronic pain treatment has provoked a quantum opening in many quarters. This article shares an invitation to a December 4-5 workshop at from the National Academy Medicine (NAM) – the most robust inclusion of integrative health there since the 2009 Summit. Also included: another positive development at NAM, and first notes of advances at AIPM’s recent Integrative Pain Care Policy Congress. The bad news of the opioid crisis is proving very good for opening needed dialogue.