Acupuncture and Chinese medicine coupled with counselling can have a positive effect on long-term drug addicts, a social service centre has found.
The Enlighten Centre in Yuen Long, run by the Evangelical Lutheran Church Social Service of Hong Kong, will hire a dedicated Chinese medicine practitioner in May, after rehabilitation sessions with practitioners from nearby Pok Oi Hospital showed good results, said Lau Wang-cheung, the head of the centre. The new hire will work regularly with at least 70 patients a year to help them overcome their addictions, Lau said.
About 100 addicts took part in the sessions: first social workers were sent to assist patients at the hospital, then 41 patients took part in two nine-month programmes at the Yuen Long centre funded by the government's Beat Drugs Fund.
The two programmes, held from July 2012 to March 2012, included three months of acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine treatment as well as counselling and spiritual support, Lau said.
Ketamine was by far the drug taken most among addicts, followed by cocaine.
"Major physical problems caused by taking ketamine include frequent urination, spleen and kidney malfunctions, depression and erratic temper," said registered Chinese medicine practitioner Amy Ng Kun-yi.
More than 64 per cent of patients said urination problems had improved, while over 90 per cent reported that other side effects of their drug taking had been minimised. Of the 41 who completed the nine months, 12 are no longer using drugs.
Ng said the patients had daily acupuncture sessions in the first week, then progressively less often as the weeks went on. Chinese medicine in the form of pills was administered as well according to patient needs.
"The first week was the worst," said a female participant who asked not to be named. The 32-year-old had been taking ketamine since she was 13. She took part in the programme because it was "either losing the drugs or losing my life", she said.
Her family never knew of her addiction, and at the height of her drug use she would spend around HK$15,000 a month on drugs - wiping out an entire month's wages and extra cash from her boyfriend at the time, who also took drugs, she said.
She has now kicked the habit, with the help of the sessions and her new Christian faith, a product of the spiritual support offered by the centre.
"This is a very different approach to weaning addicts off their drug dependencies," said Ng. While Western medicine usually focuses on reliving symptoms, she argued, Chinese medicine "seeks to search for the deeper issues and to deal with the root problems". This approach can prove effective when applied to drug users, she said.
"But drug users have lower incentives, so we often have to keep a close eye on them to make sure they take the medicine."