Doctors at Renji Hospital in Shanghai say they are the first in China to treat drug addiction with a form of acupuncture and electrical stimulation.
Doctors began using the technique late last year when the Ministry of Health banned a controversial surgical treating for drug addiction that involved removing a small portion of the brain.
Doctors at Renji say they have treated three addicts with the acupuncture technique, and the results have been impressive.
"It is a new idea to block people's drug-induced psychological dependency," said Dr Wang Guisong of Renji's neurosurgery department. "Doctors input two needles as electrodes into the brain to stimulate relative tissues to stop people's desire to use drugs. The tissues responsible for drug addiction is located beforehand."
The two needles are connected by wires to a remote control placed in the patient's chest.
After setting the strength and frequency of the stimulation, the needles can function for eight years using a battery in the control, doctors said.
"Normally, the device can be removed if the patient stops using drugs for two to three years," Wang said. "Compared with the previous banned surgery, this process doesn't remove any tissues or impose serious damage to the brain."
The three patients have all given up drug since they underwent the surgery.
"The only problem may be the cost. The new method can cost patients 200,000 yuan (US$24,661), due to the high price of the remote control," he said.
Doctors at several other facilities, including Xuanwu Hospital in Beijing, are reportedly researching the same technique.
Not everyone is supportive of the idea, however.
"The acupuncture-like practice is still a surgical process. It is also very difficult to accurately locate the brain tissues responding to heroin desire," said Dr Jiang Yuping from Huashan Hospital's Neurology Department. "Doctors should be extremely cautious when using such an approach."
By the end of last year, there were 24,195 registered drug addicts in the city, ranking No. 20 in the nation.
There were 158 new addicts registered last year.
(Shanghai Daily August 29, 2005)