Nine years ago, Michelle Brennan was involved in an automobile accident that left her paralyzed from the waist down. The accident was so serious that she had to have a metal plate inserted into her back to hold her spine in place.As a result, she has to cope with severe pain in her lower back on a daily basis. The only respite she's found from the pain caused by the accident is acupuncture.
If she had her way, Brennan, a resident of Dry Ridge, Kentucky, would simply make a 20-minute drive to see her acupuncturist, Mimi Tagher. Because Kentucky doesn't license acupuncturists, however, Brennan is forced to drive nearly twice as far away so she can be treated legally by Tagher, who also lives in Kentucky, but has an office in Cincinnati, Ohio.
"I don't have any options," explained Brennan. "I can't do anything in Kentucky. But here, Mimi has all of these diplomas and all of this education. She's amazing."
Brennan's plight highlights a grassroots campaign by patients who depend on acupuncture for pain relief and other benefits to have the profession regulated in Kentucky. Doing so would allow licensed acupuncturists to practice in the state, and give more people the opportunity to experience acupuncture without having to cross state lines for treatment.
Currently, only physicians and osteopaths may legally practice acupuncture in Kentucky. In 1998, the state legislature created a task force to study the use, benefits and risks of complementary and alternative medicine, including acupuncture, after a bill that would have made it a licensed profession was narrowly defeated.
In a January 2000 report, the task force recommended that acupuncture be licensed. Soon after the report was published, however, the Kentucky Medical Association (KMA) and the Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure questioned the task force's recommendations, citing safety concerns and a lack of solid research on acupuncture.
The KMA has acknowledged that non-physicians are practice acupuncture in Kentucky, and is of the opinion that new licensing regulations be established.
"Currently, we are aware of acupuncturists operating in the state, and I think it's important that they be certified or licensed, and there be some standards established by the commonwealth to ensure public safety," said Marty White, a spokesperson for the medical association.
A bill has already been pre-filed for the next legislative session that would create a board to regulate and license acupuncturists, and that would have the state adopt national certification standards as part of its requirements. The bill is sponsored by Denver Butler, a representative from Louisville, and head of the House Occupations and Licensing Committee.
In an article in the Louisville Courier-Journal, Butler explained that he became involved in sponsoring the legislation after talking with an acquaintance who had to travel out of the state to receive acupuncture for arthritis in his knees. "We've just go to prove our case," Butler said.
White said that the KMA has not taken a position on the bill, but that it is giving it "triple consideration." Similarly, the board of medical licensure has yet to take a position on the latest legislation, according to Lloyd Vest, the board's general counsel.
Shelley Ochs, president of the Kentucky State Acupuncture Association, believes it is time for such a bill to be passed, noting the number of states that already regulate the practice. Of the seven states that immediately border Kentucky, all allow for the practice of acupuncture by licensed acupuncturists in one form or another.
"It's a well-regulated, well-established profession in the rest of the country," Ochs said in the same article. She added that regulation of acupuncture would be good for the profession by helping to protect patients from unlicensed practitioners.
"We just feel like if it's going to be practiced, then it ought to be regulated," she said.
A version of the pre-filed bill is currently available online at the Kentucky legislature's Web site. To access the bill, visit http://www.lrc.ky.gov/record/06rs/HB17.htm.
- Smythe C. Kentucky urged to start regulating acupuncturists. Louisville Courier-Journal, Sep. 12, 2005.
- Patients, lawmakers want acupuncture therapy regulated in state. Associated Press, Sep. 12, 2005.