To compare prescribed opioid use and invasive surgical interventions between patients using acupuncture and those using non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)/Physical Therapy (PT).
Retrospective observational study of administrative claims.
Large commercial insurance plan.
52,346 each treated with either acupuncture or NSAIDs/PT.
Users of acupuncture and NSAIDs/PT were identified from January 1, 2014 to December 31, 2017. The first date of each service was defined as the index date. Acupuncture patients were 1:1 propensity score matched to the NSAIDs/PT group on baseline characteristics. Outcomes included opioid use, subsequent invasive surgical procedures, healthcare utilization such as hospitalizations or emergency department (ED) visits, and costs. These were assessed in the 12-month period before index date (baseline) and 12-month period following index date (follow-up) using difference-in-difference (DID) analysis. Results for opioid use were stratified by those with and without baseline opioid use.
The acupuncture group had fewer patients initiating opioids post-index both among those with (49.2% vs. 56.5%, p < 0.001) and without (15.9% vs. 22.6%, p < 0.001) baseline opioid use. There was a small increase in invasive surgical procedures with acupuncture (3.1% vs. 2.8% p = 0.006). A reduction in ED visits was observed with acupuncture (DID -4.3% for all-cause; -3.3% for pain-related, all p < 0.001). Acupuncture was associated with higher total medical and pharmacy costs (DID +$1,331 per patient, p = 0.006).
Acupuncture showed a modest effect in reducing opioid use and ED visits. More research on acupuncture’s place in emergency care, pain relief, and comparison to other types of non-opioid treatment is needed.

© The Author(s) 2021. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Academy of Pain Medicine.