Simon Cairns inserted five pins around Gwendolyn Rector's left ear, moved to the other side, and placed five more pins into her right ear. The almost hair-thin pins were gently pushed into specific points along either ear.
Rector settled back against a sofa. She said she wants to be drug free and make a better life for herself. If she has an opportunity to get help overcoming addiction, she'll take it, so in recent weeks she has received acupuncture treatments in that quest for a better life.
Rector and four others recently sat as soft music played in a room inside the Spartanburg Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission offices. The lights dimmed and the 45-minute treatment began.
All volunteered to participate in a one-month pilot program offered at the commission. The agency allowed Cairns, an acupuncturist certified by the National Certification Commission of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, to lead a study to examine the effectiveness of acupuncture in the treatment of addiction.
Cairns said volunteers often fall asleep - some snore - during the acupuncture session.
"The goal is to enhance treatments and to increase success rates for those battling addictions," he wrote in an email.
In acupuncture, needles are inserted into certain areas of the body to treat ailments and conditions. Cairns said acupuncture has many applications, from pain to digestive problems to depression. Acupuncture was developed in China at least 2,500 years ago.
Acupuncture is recommended by the World Health Organization as an effective treatment of more than 40 medical problems, according to the Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine.
Kathy Murphy, deputy director of outpatient services at the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission, said staff met recently and noted they had seen positive results from the trial. But at this time the agency has no immediate plans to launch an acupuncture program. More time is needed to determine what a program should look like and how it would be most beneficial to patients, Murphy said.
She said the commission wants to do what works for clients and have successful results.
Research has shown group therapy is the best treatment service for addicted clients, but that doesn't mean the agency cannot offer other services, she said.
Twelve people initially volunteered for the acupuncture pilot program. Attendance declined over time. It's not unusual for clients to drop out of services, Murphy said. It's the nature of the disease to not follow through, and they may not have been motivated, she said.
Cairns said he followed a procedure developed by the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association. Not only has it been used to treat those with substance abuse problems, the same application has helped people in tornado-ravaged Joplin, Mo., in Haiti and prison inmates, Cairns said.
Cairns has studied acupuncture since 1994. A native of Dublin, Ireland, he began his study at the Acupuncture Foundation of Ireland. He has also studied in Israel and in a residency program at Nanjing University's College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in China.
Cairns has a private practice in Duncan called Acupuncture Solutions. That is where he met Curtis Walker, a commission employee, impressed with the results he witnessed after his wife received an acupuncture treatment.
Walker said his wife, Sheila, was ill from chemotherapy treatments and extremely nauseous. At a softball game, Sheila spoke to a woman who had seen Cairns for treatment of nausea.
"We had some degree of reservation," Walker said.
He is a registered nurse and certified addiction counselor who's worked part time at the commission for 32 years.
Sheila is a retired nurse.
Despite their skepticism, they made an appointment. Walker said different medication did not work and they had to do something.
When they arrived, Sheila felt around 2 on a scale of 0 to 10 - 0 being the worst and 10 the best - Walker said. She left feeling like a nine or 10, he said.
"She said, 'I'm hungry, let's go get a hamburger,' " he recalled.
During a conversation, Cairns learned where Walker worked.
Cairns questioned why acupuncture wasn't locally used to help addicts and decided he wanted to do the pilot program.
Walker also told colleagues about the outcome his wife experienced through acupuncture.
Cairns offered the service free of charge. The commission provided space for the pilot program.
Murphy said the agency wanted to remove barriers for clients, including a fee that some may not be able to afford, and see how the treatment worked.
Volunteers received four treatments a week. Cairns also provided them with small magnets they could place on their ears and herbal tea to drink over the weekends if they desired.
Volunteers cleaned their ears with alcohol swabs before the prepackaged pins were inserted into their ears. Clients said the treatment was not painful. After the session, the pins were disposed of.
While the acupuncture reduces cravings and helps people relax, Cairns said it's only one part of treatment.
Murphy said the study was not scientific. Some clients reduced their drug use, while others did not. Regardless, those clients who did participate appeared less anxious more serene, she said.
Cairns also benefited from the pilot program.
"It was great for me. Not just because I saw how they slowly changed over a month, but it also gave me a little taste of this world of addiction that we don't normally see in our day-to-day life," Cairns said.
"It also makes me feel good that I can be a little part of the contribution," he said.