Addicts try acupuncture Therapy: A West Baltimore center uses the ancient healing practice to help patients overcome alcohol and drug dependencies.

July 05, 1996|By Marilyn McCraven | Marilyn McCraven,SUN STAFF

Look in the treatment room of the Penn-North Neighborhood Center on any weekday morning or evening, and you'll probably see people with about five, inch-long needles sticking in each ear.

They have chosen acupuncture -- the relatively painless, ancient Chinese art of healing -- to kick heroin and cocaine addictions.

Of the 400 people treated in the privately funded program's first year, ending in April, 200 are now drug-free and leading productive lives, the center says. That is a success rate that program administrators say may be higher than that of traditional outpatient drug-treatment programs. Documented proof of the program's success awaits results of a long-term study to be released this year.

"The folks who come here have done every 'quick fix' that's ever been thought of," said Cynthia Zanti Jabs, an acupunc-turist. "This is not a quick fix. This is something different, and it's working."

But such success has not translated into enduring financial support. The Abell Foundation supported the program in its first year, but administrators are looking for long-term funding to maintain the West Baltimore program.

Program officials say they're not likely to receive public money since city government recently cut funding to a similar program run by Bon Secours Hospital's New Hope Treatment Center in Southwest Baltimore. As a result, the Bon Secours center dropped acupuncture treatment on Friday. It still offers counseling and methadone, a heroin substitute.

"It was a sad thing to lose because it was definitely effective," said Anne Carney, director of substance abuse programs for Bon Secours.

That program also had a 50 percent success rate, Carney said.

At the Penn-North program, after acupuncturists from the Traditional Acupuncture Institute in Columbia place the needles, clients rest for 45 minutes; some read or even fall asleep.

Most of the clients live in the area, and all volunteer for treatment -- a significant factor because a program goal is for community residents to eventually open another center.

"We want a ripple effect where people are bringing in their children, their friends," for treatment for various ailments, said Robert Duggan, acupuncture institute president.

Several patients interviewed there lauded the program.

Said Annette, a 53-year-old woman who beat a crack cocaine habit: "I used to get up in the morning and reach for a cigarette and a cup of coffee. Now I get up and reach for a breakfast. I'm a different person now."

A man in his 20s, who had needles in each ear, said he used to steal to support his heroin and cocaine habit and credits the program with bringing him back in touch with his family. He plans to return to school in the fall.

His parole officer suggested that he attend the program after he was arrested this year for driving without a license. "At first, I came here because he told me to, but now I'm here on my own; I'm doing this for me," he said.

A young married couple from Aberdeen said acupuncture helped them kick methadone, which they said is more addictive than heroin. The 23-year-olds said they quit drugs to become better parents to their infant daughter.

The therapy is believed to help release natural body chemicals that relieve stress and reduce cravings for drugs and other withdrawal symptoms.

Acupuncture needles may be placed in the ears, face, head, feet and legs to touch points that correspond to organs such as the liver and kidneys and the nervous system.

Program participants begin by coming for treatment every weekday and attending two Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous meetings a week. That schedule lessens as clients progress in the three-phase program over three months and their drug use declines.

Urine samples are randomly tested each day. Those falsely claiming to be drug-free may be asked to revert to an earlier phase of the program or be dismissed.

Patients are asked to pay between $1 and $10 per treatment or to do janitorial work around the treatment area in lieu of a fee.

Once dismissed by Western doctors as quackery, acupuncture has gained wide acceptance around the country.

In Broward County, Fla., people found guilty of buying or possessing cocaine are given a choice: jail or treatment involving acupuncture and counseling.

Government and private funds pay for acupuncture treatment programs to help inmates at the Baltimore City Detention Center kick drug habits.

The acupuncture institute became involved in addict treatment programs when Abell Foundation officials requested its assistance for women inmates. The program for male inmates at the detention center began July 1.

Though successful while incarcerated, many women inmates said they feared losing their sobriety after release. That sparked the formation of three outpatient programs: Bon Secours, Johns Hopkins Hospital and the Penn-North site at 2410 Pennsylvania Ave., in the Sandtown-Winchester empowerment zone.

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