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Salem VAMC using battlefield acupuncture, other methods to reduce pain

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SALEM (WSLS 10) - Painkiller addiction is a problem millions of Americans face. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates every day, more than 1,000 people are treated in emergency departments for misusing prescription drugs. Local hospitals including the Salem Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC) are focused on ways to reduce the use of painkillers and prevent painkiller addiction.

After serving our country and spending years in law enforcement, Larry Stewart said his active lifestyle took a toll on his body. He now experiences knee problems and other chronic pains.

As part of the Salem VAMC's efforts to reduce the risk of prescription drug addiction, doctors have shifted to alternative methods for treatment.

Dr. Charles Lamb said the intention is to focus on pain-management.

"We want to improve the safety and while improving the pain tolerance," said Lamb. "Unlike many pain clinics that have been more traditional, we emphasize function."

In recent years, doctors at the Salem VAMC have been using what's known as Battlefield Acupuncture. They said it's an evidenced-based complementary alternative practice. While doctors can't get rid of chronic pain, they said placing the pins in patients' ears can decrease the severity of it.

"They are thought to reduce the activity levels in those areas of the brain and block the transmission of pain signal to the brain," said Clinical Director for Interdisciplinary Pain Management Kim Pratt.

The alternative method has helped relieve pain for Stewart and others. The veteran said it was like a miracle the first time he received the alternative treatment.

"After she put all 10 of [the needles] in," said Stewart. "I was moving like I hadn't moved in two to three years."

With his pain reduced, Stewart said he takes fewer prescriptions and believes the alternative methods will help others do the same.

Doctors at the Salem VAMC said, since 2014, close to 1,000 patients have been involved with the alternative treatment program.

In addition to acupuncture, doctors are also using yoga, tai chi and other therapies.