Harvard University’s Asia Center just published a two part video series by scholar, Eana Meng, chronicling her global journey to uncover the roots and branches of ear acupuncture. Meng began her research in the fall of 2018 at a substance use recovery center in Manchester, NH at Hope For NH Recovery. Her two part video series can be viewed on Harvard’s Asia Center website.
“I was researching the practice of acupuncture to address the opioid epidemic for my senior thesis, and I traveled to Manchester, New Hampshire because I had heard about someone doing ear acupuncture at a substance use recovery center in Manchester,” says Meng. “I was baffled.” Having grown up hearing stories of her grandmother as a Chinese Medicine practitioner, the scene at Hope was unexpected.
Acupuncturist, Elizabeth Ropp, was practicing a standardized ear acupuncture treatment known as NADA (an acronym for the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association), which supports behavioral health, including addictions, mental health, and disaster and emotional trauma.
Ropp handed Meng a pamphlet entitled “The Radical History of Acupuncture in America,”which described the use of ear acupuncture by 1970s revolutionaries in the South Bronx, including the Black Panther Party and Young Lords. This little-known history changed the course of Meng’s research.
“Origin stories are hard to pinpoint. Instead of trying to figure out the start and end points, I want to look at the connection in transmission of the practice and knowledge. Just like acupuncture, the way to understand the following stories is to look at the unexpected connections. Connections between seventies revolutionaries in New York to present day prisons in England. From those in recovery clinics in Hungary to police officers in India and even First responders on Ground Zero post 9–11.”
Acupuncturist and Addictions Specialist, Sue Cox, of the UK, teaches the research behind ear acupuncture. She has trained over 20,000 healthcare practitioners and gotten ear acupuncture into 128 out of the 150 UK prisons. “[Research shows] that vagus nerve stimulation is fairly common for treatment-resistant depression…Stimulating the inner ear has value to stimulating the vagus nerve.”
About half of the states in the US allow licensed health professionals to practice ear acupuncture under some restrictions. In New Hampshire, Vermont, Wyoming and Colorado, any competently trained person can be certified as an Acupuncture Detoxification Specialist. Acupuncture is not as regulated in the United Kingdom.
“It’s psychological first aid. It should be in everybody’s medicine cabinet.” says NADA trainer and acupuncturist, Laura Cooley.