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  • Last month the British Medical Journal ran a “Head to Head” article asking “Should doctors recommend acupuncture for pain?”. The medical director of the British Medical Acupuncture Society, Mike Cummings, did a nice job defending acupuncture while the best known skeptic in the U.K, Edzard Ernst and Asbjørn Hróbjartsson, did the usual hatchet job of saying acupuncture is known to be just a placebo so doctors should not recommend it.

    I wrote a short, carefully worded response pointing out the effects those critics call “placebo” are the positive benefits seen in real people in thousands of acupuncture trials and that the “controversy” over acupuncture’s effects being placebo was being manufactured by a fringe group who don’t care about people suffering pain. While my letter was published, the journal’s editors changed some phrases omitting the “manufactured” wording as well as my calling these skeptics a “fringe” group.  These small edits changed the tone and messaging of my response. Way uncool.

    I wanted to share my original letter with you all because I believe the reply I crafted gives the acupuncture community talking points we should be using repeatedly to put those skeptics in their place. I also don’t like being misquoted.  Feel free to share and use this when and where possible. We need consistent messaging to counter their consistent placebo argument. That response follows below.

    Also – have you seen our documentary “Getting to the Point” yet? We are still offering a great package of the complete documentary, an excellent panel discussion regarding acupuncture in hospitals, and an awesome interview with Ruth McCarty sharing her clinical pearls on treating seriously ill children including infants. That package will only be available until the end of April when we will release the film to the public. We need to raise more money to promote this film and start on our next episode which is already in the works!

    My response to the British Medical Journal:

    Wrong on the evidence – wrong on the ethics.

    Those arguing against acupuncture are either ignorant of or indifferent to the plight of those suffering chronic pain. They try to obscure the fact that when they claim acupuncture’s effects are due to placebo, the effects being referred to are the positive clinical outcomes seen in hundreds of thousands of people in thousands of research trials. That real people with real pain enjoy such benefits is not controversial; this has been demonstrated time and again. The only controversy is the one being manufactured by a fringe group who would have you believe that those benefits don’t count because they are due to the placebo effect, that the placebo test is the only one that matters, and the placebo case against acupuncture is airtight. They are wrong on all accounts.

    In North America people are literally dying in the streets every day because their doctors recommended opioids to manage their pain even though the evidence favors acupuncture over conventional care including opioids for common pain conditions. This is a real public health crisis. Yet the fringe critics would have us believe that comparing the benefit to harm ratio of different pain management therapies should not be undertaken to guide doctors’ recommendations. Their twisted credo is “First do no placebo” rather than “Frist do no harm.” Shame on them for trying to slow the adoption of a safer and more effective alternative with their smoke and mirrors portrayal of the evidence.