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Prescribing acupuncture for chronic pain could reduce deaths from opioid addiction, says British Acupuncture Council

Prescribing acupuncture for chronic pain could reduce deaths from opioid addiction, says British Acupuncture Council

GPs and other clinicians should consider prescribing acupuncture to treat chronic pain in order to reduce death rates from opioid addiction, according to the British Acupuncture Council.

Head of research, Mark Bovey, was responding to calls by the Scottish Government’s lead clinician, Professor Blair Smith, for more ‘rational prescribing’ of opioids.

Research by Professor Smith has revealed that prescriptions for ‘strong’ opioids in Scotland, including fentanyl, morphine and oxycodone more than doubled between 2003 and 2012 to more than 1 million a year. The number of drug-related deaths in Scotland rose to a record 934 in 2017.

Mark Bovey highlighted a ‘wealth of evidence’ demonstrating the effectiveness of acupuncture in treating pain.

He said: “More than 1.5 billion people worldwide suffer from chronic pain, with the three most common sources of pain being low back pain (29%), neck pain (16%) and severe headache or migraine pain (15%).

“In the largest study of its kind to date, 454,920 patients were treated with acupuncture for headache, low back pain, and/or osteoarthritis in an open pragmatic trial. More than 75% of the patients who took part in the trial rated the treatment as markedly or moderately effective in treating their pain. (1)

“In a two-year retroactive survey of more than 89,000 patients, which was published in 2016, 93% of patients said their acupuncturist successfully treated their musculoskeletal pain.

“And a systematic review of 13 trials, showed that acupuncture was more effective than sham needling and injection with painkillers. (3)

“A study carried out at the University of York by Professor Hugh McPherson, the only professor of acupuncture in the UK, showed that the addition of acupuncture to standard medical care significantly reduced the number of headaches and migraine attacks and reduced the severity of neck and lower back pain compared to standard medical care alone. The study, which involved 18,000 patients, also showed that acupuncture reduced the pain and disability of osteoarthritis, which led to patients being less reliant on anti-inflammatory tablets to control pain. (4)

“Traditional acupuncture is a holistic system of medicine. Before a practitioner treats a patient they will first take a full medical history, which enables them to treat the whole person rather than just an individual symptom. The acupuncturist will then work to discover the underlying cause of any symptoms and try to resolve this by placing needles into specific acupuncture points.”

Bovey’s comment add weight to a campaign launched by the Scottish Drugs Forum last week to highlight alternatives to opioid prescribing.

  1. Weidenhammer W, Streng A, Linde K, Hoppe A, Melchart D. Acupuncture for chronic pain within the research program of 10 German Health Insurance Funds – basic results from an observational study. Complementary therapies in medicine. 2007; 15(4):238-46.
  2. American Specialty Health Incorporated Health Services Department. (2016). Acupuncture: Does Acupuncture Provided within a Managed Care Setting Meet Patient Expectations and Quality Outcomes? 1-12.
  3. Xiang, A; Cheng, K; Xu, P & Liu, S (n.d). The immediate analgesic effect of acupuncture for pain: a systematic review and meta-analysis.
  4. MacPherson H, Vickers A, Bland M, Torgerson D, Corbett M, Spackman E et al. Acupuncture for chronic pain and depression in primary care: a programme of research. Programme Grants Apl Res 2017; 5(3)


Notes to Editor:

  • For further information, case studies or interviews please contact: Katie Osborne on 07990 922615 or by emailing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


About the BAcC:

The British Acupuncture Council (BAcC) has a membership of nearly 3,000 professionally qualified acupuncturists. It is the UK's largest professional body for the practice of acupuncture. BAcC members practise a traditional, holistic style of acupuncture diagnosis and treatment based on a system developed and refined over 2,000 years. To achieve BAcC membership, practitioners must first undertake extensive training in traditional acupuncture (minimum three years full-time or part-time equivalent), which includes physiology, anatomy and other biomedical sciences appropriate to the practice of acupuncture.

Traditional acupuncture:

Traditional acupuncture as practised by members of the BAcC is based on Chinese medicine principles that have been developed, researched and refined for over 2,500 years. Traditional acupuncture is holistic, not focused on isolated symptoms. It regards pain and illness, whether physical or mental, to be a sign the whole body is out of balance. Western or medical acupuncture is a more recent development practised predominantly by doctors and physiotherapists, who use acupuncture techniques within their existing scope of practice on the basis of a western medical diagnosis

Why use a BAcC practitioner?

Only British Acupuncture Council members belong to a Professional Standards Authority accredited register, providing professional guarantees of safety, education and continuing development (

Look for the letters MBAcC after the name of your acupuncturist to ensure:

  • extensive training – minimum three years degree level – with relevant western medicine including anatomy and physiology
  • adherence to BAcC codes of safe practice and professional conduct
  • compliance with current health and safety legislation
  • full insurance cover for medical malpractice and public/products liability
  • mandatory continuing professional development to keep knowledge and skills up to date
  • postgraduate study of special interests such as pain management and acupuncture for children


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