Clinic will use acupuncture to fight addiction in mothers


In an effort to keep families together, Baltimore will open an innovative clinic that uses acupuncture to help mothers fight their drug addictions.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke yesterday unveiled plans for the Acupuncture--Maternal Substance Abuse Project, which starts in September.

The goal, he said, will be to "allow children to stay within home and to allow mothers to function as the strong role models in the home."

The project will treat up to 150 mothers with the 3,000-year-old Chinese medical practice, which uses long needles inserted at various points of the body.

Widely known as a method to relieve pain, acupuncture is now being recognized as a viable way to reduce drug cravings. Currently, about 70 centers across the country use acupuncture as part of drug-abuse treatment, said Dr. Michael Smith of the Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx.

The Baltimore clinic is modeled after an 8-year-old program that Dr. Smith created at the New York City hospital.

He is helping Baltimore set up its program, which will be operated by the University of Maryland's Drug Treatment Center at the Walter P. Carter Center.

Women will receive a 45-minute acupuncture treatment up to five days a week in addition to counseling sessions. Urine screenings will also be given five days a week, said Dr. Smith.

The course of treatment will depend on the individual's response and the clinic's caseload. The project is being funded for the first year by the Abell Foundation and the Soros Foundation, each providing half of the $275,000 budget.

Baltimore was selected because of the mayor's commitment to fighting drug abuse, said Dr. Peter Beilenson, city health commissioner.

At a press conference at the Carter Center on 630 W. Fayette St., Dr. Smith demonstrated the acupuncture technique, using Mr. Schmoke as a subject. He stuck four 1-inch long stainless steel needles into each of the mayor's ears.

The needles are placed at specific points to relieve pressure. In the case of drug abusers, the acupuncture helps to reduce cravings for drugs such as cocaine and heroin, Dr Smith said.

The needles were in Mr. Schmoke's ears for more than 10 minutes.

"For about two minutes," Mr. Schmoke said, "I had a sensation that you're on a fast ride in an amusement park, and you just got off the ride."

The clinic is not a drop-in facility open to all. Instead, clients will be selected by the Department of Social Services.

Addicted mothers whose children are already in foster homes or will likely be put in homes will be the prime candidates.

Dr. Beilenson estimated that there are about 18,000 women who abuse drugs in Baltimore, out of total of 48,000 men and women who are addicts. The number who are mothers is not known.

Acupuncture is already being used as one measure to fight drug addiction at several public treatment programs in Baltimore, he said.

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