Faces of Recovery: Acupuncture offers alternative to opioids

Floyd Herdrich inserts acupuncture needles in Taylor Schontag's ears as part of a program at the McShin Foundation.
Floyd Herdrich inserts acupuncture needles in Taylor Schontag's ears as part of a program at the McShin Foundation.

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Brittany Stigall sits back and breathes out as needles are inserted into her ear. This is a milestone moment for her. However, with the good comes a battle she has been fighting for more than three years.

“I’ve been clean for almost 60 days, so I have a lot of things coming back to me,” she says quietly.

Stigall is in recovery for heroin addiction. Pain she numbed with drugs is a reality again. It is why she is trying something new today to manage it.

“Around here, a lot of people call me Doc Floyd,” explains Floyd Herdrich.

He is not a medical doctor, but Herdrich is a licensed acupuncturist who has been using needles to treat all types of ailments for more than thirty years.

“It’s not just at the end of the hour,” he explains the relief each session brings. “It will carry three, four, five days or a week.”

While the ancient remedy is becoming more mainstream as modern drug-free pain relief, Herdrich is especially making strides with people who have developed a dependence on opioids and heroin. He officially started a program at the McShin Foundation three years ago that follows a protocol started three decades ago.

“It came out in literature from China at that time that there was some possibility that these particular points on the ear might offset the effects of withdrawal, and they began using it and found it was much more than that,” he says.

Twenty-year-old Taylor Schontag attests to the benefits. She started using when she was just 12-years-old, following in the footsteps of her father Jeff Schontag who has been hooked on pain pills for fifteen years.

“It’s like a feeling that goes over your whole body and you just feel really content really relaxed,” Taylor says.

Jeff adds they have become a support system for each other and will continue to get acupuncture together.

Jeff Schontag is finding relief through acupuncture.
Jeff Schontag is finding relief through acupuncture.

“Get some recovery under our belts,” Jeff says.

Kelly Howerton admits she was cautious at first, but now she regularly uses acupuncture to supplement other treatments.

“You wouldn’t think that a bunch of addicts who were using needles would be scared of needles in your ears,” she says about acupuncture. “But it relaxes in such a  way where you can just relax.”

Research shows the fine needles stimulate points on the body and release endorphins, which are the body’s natural morphine that aids in pain relief. Serotonin, which is often called the happy hormone, creates a sense of calm.

“A lot of people here are so caught up in monkey mind as we call it, chatter and keeping themselves stirred up,” says Herdrich. “It’s kind of scary to calm down.”

Stigall admits, “It was pretty rough at first, but the longer time goes on the easier time gets.”

She knows she has even more strength to continue moving forward, now that acupuncture is part of her recovery program at McShin.

“Thank God for it because it definitely saved my life,” she says.

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