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History of the NADA protocol

The NADA protocol treatment for drug and alcohol abuse was primarily developed at Lincoln Hospital, in the impoverished South Bronx, New York. Galvanized by the lack of services for their community, activists, including members of the Young Lords and Black Panthers, radical Puerto Rican and African American organisations were instrumental in creating the initial Lincoln Detox program, a methadone-assisted detoxification for heroin addicts, one of the first of its kind.

Wanting more natural, non pharmaceutical interventions, Lincoln adopted Wen’s method

(Hsiang-Lai Wen, a neurosurgeon in Hong Kong, discovered, serendipitously in 1972, that needles inserted in the ear – intended as a preoperative anaesthetic – abated physical withdrawal symptoms from opium. Intrigued, Wen decided to try to replicate this effect, and in 1973, Wen and Cheung published their findings in treating 40 heroin- and opium-addicted individuals with electro-potentiated ear and body acupuncture in the Asian Journal of Medicine.17 The New York Times article on these findings included this quote from Wen, “We don’t claim it’s a cure for drug addiction. If we can treat the withdrawal symptoms, make the patient more comfortable, and alleviate their suffering, then we have achieved something. Our treatment is not the complete answer to drug addiction’’)



  The ear acupuncture protocol was expanded by trial and error over several years, under the leadership of Michael Smith, MD, DAc, with the ultimate resultant combination: “Shen Men,” “Sympathetic” (sometimes noted in the literature as “Autonomic”), “Kidney,” “Liver,” and “Lung”

What also developed was the understanding of the ear treatment not just as relieving acute withdrawal but offering a long-term, preventative, or “tonification” effect. Over the ensuing years, Lincoln dropped methadone and electric stimulation and developed a client-centered style of treatment useful for alcohol and other drugs of abuse.

In 1985, NADA was founded and incorporated by Smith and others in order to promote the training of behavioral health clinicians. The term “acudetox” was adopted to differentiate it from other forms of acupuncture, indicating that this is a standardized protocol, not requiring the practitioner to make a diagnosis and determine treatment points. The synonymous terms “acudetox” and “the NADA protocol” refer to the integrated style of treatment as well as the insertion of standardized acupuncture points in the outer ear. Lincoln functioned until 2011 as the largest training institute for Acupuncture Detoxification Specialists (ADS). NADA estimates that 25,000 have trained worldwide. 

The NADA protocol is a very straightforward and low-cost tool that is not a stand-alone procedure, but aids in behavioral health treatment and recovery. Promotion of the use of this protocol has occurred primarily by word of mouth as opposed to well-funded pharmaceutical aids to treatment. Focusing on underserved communities and capacity-building remained core concepts as NADA spread.

During the early 2000s, acudetox took off around the world, beginning with the realization that the NADA protocol was helpful as a stress reduction technique, improving sleep and coping, not only in those with substance abuse problems but also in those exposed to horrific trauma.20 After the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, an acudetox “stress reduction clinic” began in Manhattan providing >1,000 treatments in the first 10 days and continuing through 2007, funded by the Red Cross. NADA trainings were conducted in India and Thailand for Burmese refugee camps in 2001. The Pan-African Acupuncture Project brought NADA treatments to Uganda and surrounding regions in 2002. In 2003, the use of NADA in Substance Misuse Programs in the United Kingdom expanded to over 130 correctional facilities, and NADA-style treatments were developed in Peru, Mexico City, and the Philippines. In 2005, NADA members aided in Gulf Coast recovery efforts after hurricanes Katrina and Rita and in Kashmir following earthquakes, and the organization Acupuncturists Without Borders was developed using the NADA protocol in trauma and disaster relief settings around the world.24

One of the most common responses observed clinically from subjects receiving a NADA treatment includes reports of improved sleep and feeling calm enough to cope. This has been seen with the increasing episodes of trauma and disaster experienced worldwide.  Many people in these situations have reported significant benefit from the NADA nonverbal treatment. This past year has seen the development of the Colorado Acupuncture Medical Reserve Corp (CAMRC).25 So far the only one of its kind in the USA, acupuncturists and ADS provide NADA treatments for victims of disasters as well as for first responders, including police, firefighters, hospital personnel, etc. The experience has been so positive that the recommendation is for other states to consider developing Medical Reserve Corp response which includes complementary treatments such as the NADA protocol. This constitutes a powerful example of “practice-based evidence.”

NADA History

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