The West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine explores new approaches to battling addiction.


Difficult problems sometimes require innovative solutions. Because osteopathic medical schools train physicians to look beyond the symptoms of an illness to examine the “whole patient,” they are often
in an ideal position to deal with health challenges in groundbreaking ways. The West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine (WVSOM), based in Lewisburg, is no exception.

WVSOM emphasizes rural care and produces the most physicians in primary care for West Virginia. The school has worked in recent years to combat the opioid crisis that has impacted lives in communities throughout the Mountain State. That work has included training health professionals in an acudetox technique and creating a series aimed at educating medical students about the crisis.

WVSOM faculty member, Deborah Schmidt, D.O.,
explains areas of the ear to place needles during a
National Acupuncture Detoxification Association
(NADA) protocol training session. image courtesy of West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine

Healing through acupuncture

One way WVSOM is tackling the opioid epidemic is through training members of approved health-related professions to use the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association (NADA), or acudetox, protocol, a
form of acupuncture in which small needles are placed into specific areas on the exterior of the ear. About 25,000 people have been trained in the technique worldwide, according to NADA.

Deborah Schmidt, D.O., who chairs WVSOM’s osteopathic principles and
practice department, says acudetox, when used in conjunction with other addiction treatments, can reduce cravings for drugs and minimize withdrawal symptoms. The procedure also can be used in non-addicted
patients to improve sleep, decrease anxiety, and ease symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, among other health benefits.

“Many of West Virginia’s health care providers are burned out from treating people with addiction,” Schmidt says. “It can be very taxing. But this protocol is inexpensive, portable, and easily learned, so providers are excited to have a new option.”

WVSOM was among the state medical schools that received funding in 2019 through the State Opioid Response Grant to provide professional development opportunities for health care professionals in West Virginia. WVSOM, with approval from the state Department of Health and Human Resources, decided to use a portion of the funds to train health care providers in non-pharmacologic methods to aid in the treatment of opioid addiction.

To receive certification as an acudetox specialist, a physician, physician assistant, nurse, dentist, psychologist, professional counselor, occupational therapist, social worker, corrections medical provider, or emergency medical service provider must complete a training program,
attend a 12-step meeting, and needle at least 40 ears under supervision.

The school offered training sessions during the second half of 2019 and hosted an “Introduction to NADA for Physicians” lecture and lab in January 2020 during the WVSOM Alumni Association’s Mid-Winter Osteopathic Seminar. The school recently received an additional year’s funding, and future training sessions have already been planned.

So far, WVSOM has trained 86 people in using the protocol. The interest in NADA has been so great that WVSOM has a waiting list of providers requesting training when opportunities become available.

Reducing stigma, sharing knowledge

In 2019 and again in 2020, WVSOM’s Center for Rural and Community Health (CRCH) and student Neuro-Psych Club offered a series of educational panels on opioid use also made possible through the State Opioid Response grant. Haylee Heinsberg, CRCH director of education, said the presentations were intended to decrease the stigma associated with substance use disorder and to bring new perspectives on the epidemic to WVSOM students.

“This crisis affects us all,” Heinsberg says. “The series aimed to prepare the next generation of physicians to address the opioid epidemic with compassion, evidence-based strategies, and collaboration. Our goal was to increase knowledge and reduce stigma to promote medical students’ understanding of the epidemic and improve the way students on rotations and physicians in practice communicate, connect, and care for those struggling with substance use disorder.”

This year’s panel featured West Virginians who work directly with addicted individuals, including Huntington fire chief Jan Rader,
Necia Freeman of Huntington’s Brown Bag Ministries, and William Thompson, a drug court judge in Boone and Lincoln counties. Other
panels featured professionals with specialized knowledge, such as addiction medicine and psychiatry specialist James Berry, D.O., who
works with a team studying a surgical addiction treatment known as deep brain stimulation, and Rob Londeree, a pharmacist who spoke on the use of compounding as a non-opioid alternative for topical pain treatment. One presentation included a panel of former opioid users who have successfully recovered, putting a human face on the crisis and reminding students that at the heart of the epidemic are the patients who are suffering.

WVSOM’s CRCH also is assisting various local, county, and state partners in creating a series of Opioid and Prescription Drug Prevention and Awareness Toolkits showcasing resources available to help those who are battling substance use disorder. In October 2019, WVSOM was selected to make two presentations during the annual WONCA World Rural Health Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The school’s opioid education series was the subject of “Preparing the Next Generation of Physicians to Address the Opioid Epidemic,” presented by Heinsberg and Julianna Quick, a WVSOM counseling and learning specialist. A session detailing the WVSOM-assisted toolkits was presented by Drema Mace, D.O., the school’s vice president for community engagement and development.


posted on May 19, 2020

written by Kevin Bays

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