NIH News Advisory
Office of the Director

Wednesday, Oct. 29, 1997

Bill Hall
NIH Office of Medical Applications of Research
301-496-4819; November 3-5: 301-641-3813

Anita Greene
NIH Office of Alternative Medicine

Consensus Development Conference on Acupuncture

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) will hold a Consensus Development Conference on Acupuncture, November 3-5, 1997, in the main auditorium of the William H. Natcher Building on the NIH campus in Bethesda, Maryland. A news conference will conclude the 21/2-day meeting at 1 p.m. EST on Wednesday, November 5, 1997.

Acupuncture is a medical procedure involving penetration of specific locations on the skin called acupuncture points with thin, solid, generally metallic, needles. Closely related to and often practiced with acupuncture is moxibustion, the local and focused application of heat to acupuncture points using a compressed, powdered combustible substance (moxa), which is burned at or near the points to be stimulated. Acupuncture and moxibustion are the two best known aspects of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) in the U.S. and are used by many Americans.

In March 1996, after years of deliberation, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reclassified acupuncture needles, removing them from the category of "experimental medical devices." The FDA now regulates them just as it does other devices such as surgical scalpels and hypodermic syringes. This decision removed a major barrier to insurance coverage for acupuncture treatment for the more than 10,000 health care providers certified to practice acupuncture in the U.S.

Because an acupuncture treatment is a procedure like a psychotherapy session or surgery (rather than a drug), it has been very difficult to study using the gold standard of randomized double-blind trials. Nevertheless, acupuncture is used by millions of American patients and performed by thousands of physicians, dentists, masters-degree level acupuncturists, and other practitioners for a variety of health problems, such as prevention and treatment of nausea and vomiting; treatment of pain and addictions to alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs; treatment of female reproductive system problems; prevention of breathing problems such as asthma and bronchitis; and stroke rehabilitation from neurological damage.

The NIH has organized this 21/2-day conference to evaluate the scientific and medical data on the uses, risks, and benefits of acupuncture procedures for a variety of conditions. The conference will bring together national and international experts in the fields of fields of acupuncture, pain, psychology, psychiatry, physical medicine and rehabilitation, drug abuse, pulmonology, health policy, epidemiology, statistics, physiology, and biophysics as well as representatives from the public.

After 11/2 days of presentations and audience discussion, an independent, non-Federal consensus panel chaired by David J. Ramsay, D.M., D. Phil., President, University of Maryland at Baltimore, will weigh the scientific evidence and write a draft statement that will address the following key questions:

The panel will present its draft statement to the public for comment at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, November 5. Following this public comment session, the panel will release its revised consensus statement at a news conference at 1 p.m. and take questions from the media. Dr. Ramsay will moderate the news conference. The consensus statement is the report of an independent panel and is not a policy statement of the NIH or the Federal Government.

The NIH Consensus Development Program was established in 1977 as a form of "science court" to resolve in an unbiased manner controversial topics in medicine. To date, NIH has conducted 106 such conferences addressing a wide range of controversial medical issues important to health care providers, patients, and the general public. An average of six consensus conferences are held each year.

Additional information about this conference, including the meeting agenda, local area hotels, and directions to NIH, is available at the NIH Consensus Development Program Web site at To register for the conference, call 301-468-MEET, send e-mail to, or visit the Web site.

NOTE TO RADIO EDITORS: An audio report of the conference results will be available November 5-14, 1997 from the NIH Radio News Service by calling 1-800-MED-DIAL (1-800-633-3425) or by visiting on the Web.