Jan Seiden suffered chronic pain and depression when she turned to acupuncture.

Diagnosed as "suicidal," the Baltimore City resident said she wanted to avoid the powerful drugs prescribed by traditional Western medicine.

That decision almost proved fatal, Seiden said yesterday as statelawmakers considered a bill that would allow acupuncturists to practice outside a physician's supervision.

The House Environmental Matters Committee heard testimony on two controversial bills introduced by Anne Arundel lawmakers aimed at protecting and advancing unorthodox medical treatments.

Delegate Elizabeth S. Smith, R-Davidsonville, introduced a bill to elevate the professional status of acupuncturists.

Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese practice of piercing specific points on the body with tiny needles to treat disease or alleviatepain.

Delegate W. Ray Huff, D-Pasadena, has proposed a measure protecting doctors who practice holistic medicine from censure by the traditional medical community.

Acupuncturists -- including licensedmedical doctors -- currently must register with the state through a supervising physician. Under Smith's bill, they would be licensed by the state to practice independently.

When her depression worsened,Seiden said her acupuncturist discouraged her from seeking a physician's help.

"As my suicidal condition got worse, I felt lost in a system that was supposed to help me," she said.

"I am fortunate that I was able to take the initiative to seek outside help."

Although several doctors said allowing non-physicians to practice without supervision could lead to more cases like Seiden's, Smith said her bill would elevate the professional standards of acupuncture.

"I sincerely believe it will improve acupuncture care in Maryland," said Smith.

Smith introduced the bill on behalf of the Maryland Acupuncture Association, which represents the nearly 200 practitioners in the state.

Charles Topps, an Anne Arundel County attorney, said he believes he lost his colon because a supervising physician ordered him tostop using acupuncture.

In the early 1980s, Topps said, he suffered rheumatism, causing severe wrist pain and rectal bleeding.

Whenthe oral injections of steroids prescribed by his medical doctor made him depressed, Topps turned to acupuncture.

The needles seemed to work until the supervising physician, whom Topps had only seen once, ordered the treatment to stop for no apparent reason, he said.

Within nine weeks, Topps was hospitalized and his colon was removed "under the belief that that would relieve my symptoms," he said. It didn't.

"To this day I don't know what I have," he said. "I do know that when I was denied my acupuncture, I suffered depression and pain and possibly the unnecessary loss of my colon."

More than 100 physicians, patients and their families packed the committee room to testify on the two bills -- particularly Huff's bill.

After more than three hours, testimony continued into the late evening.

Dr. Neal Solomon, a former state secretary of health and mental hygiene and a newspaper columnist, testified in support of Huff's bill.

"The majority of patients in the country can benefit from traditional physicians," he said.

"But, by God, I think there is a place for innovative physicians."

"I'm still getting (supportive) notices in my office by the barrel-load," Huff said of the more than 3,500 letters he's received in the past 35 days.

"I've heard from more people on thisthan for 2020 (a growth management bill), abortion or taxes."

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