Matt Maneggia knows firsthand the damage an opioid addiction can do.
Maneggia, a Hartford resident and an acupuncturist in West Hartford, watched his older brother, Billy Maneggia, struggle with a drug addiction for most of his adult life. Billy Maneggia died from a heart attack in 2013.
Living in Bolton, the Maneggia family was like any other. They'd gather for family dinners. Their father was the town mailman and their mother was a teacher in town.
"I feel like my brother's condition shaped, obviously his life, but my whole family's life," Maneggia said. "We grew up in Bolton and both sets of grandparents lived in Bolton. We all had dinner every Sunday. It was a real small town thing."
Maneggia never really knew what exactly drove his brother to use heroin, and is even unsure of how long he had been using the drug. But he remembers when his brother first overdosed in 1998.
"Growing up, he was classic ADHD, but this was before it was a thing," Maneggia said. "His experience was learning from his teachers that he wasn't good enough. From high school on, he was going down this path. It was a little different than people getting hooked on pain meds and then turning to heroin. With him, it was more about self-medication. He started with alcohol and eventually he got into heroin, and that was what really did him in."
It was his experience with his brother that drove Maneggia into his profession of being an acupuncturist, 10 years ago, because of what help he saw his brother receive, how it didn't help, and how acupuncture can be used as part of a treatment for someone trying to lose an addiction.
"He tried to get help a lot," Maneggia said about his brother. "He basically got on a cocktail of psychoactive drugs. He'd be prescribed medication for ADHD and bipolar disorder. And those would come with a whole host of side effects. And then you'd get put on medication for those side effects."
Maneggia said that during acupuncture, your body is creating endorphins that can bind to the receptors that the synthetic opioid was satisfying.
"Acupuncture is used to help people get off drugs and alcohol," Maneggia said. "It's not a magic bullet. It's going to mainly be the person's commitment. It won't completely take away any urge that you have to use. It can really help reduce the side effects. It helps your mood improve. People going off opiates will also have nausea and muscle aches. Those are things acupuncture can treat."
Maneggia gave acupuncture to his brother after he suffered a broken back while working a construction job.
"He was roofing and fell of the roof and broke his back," Maneggia said. "At the time, he was trying not to use, so he was trying not to use the morphine in the hospital. A broken back is beyond what acupuncture can help, but he would come in, especially when he wasn't using. He always swore it helped. I think it really helped him get through."
Maneggia opened his practice, Connecticut Family Acupuncture, in West Hartford 10 years ago. He also opened a second location, in Bolton, over a year ago.
He's now advocating for more insurance companies to cover acupuncture in greater amounts, because of how he said it can be a good alternative to using pain medication and treat people with addictions. He's now seeing more doctors recommend patients to him before trying pain medication.
"Right now, it seems like acupuncture and what we're doing goes hand in hand with this opioid crisis," Maneggia said. "I feel like it could be so useful as a first stop treatment for pain."
Maneggia said some insurance companies do cover acupuncture, but not many sessions, and often for very specific reasons.
"Most insurance companies cover it, some of it only pays so little that it prevents a lot of acupuncturists from joining," Maneggia said. "It's not as robust as it could be. They could improve coverage. Sometimes, the insurance company will only pay if its for morning sickness or arthritis of the knee."
His brother's addiction, which once caused shame, is now something Maneggia is trying to use to help others through the skills he has.
"This happening...there was shame for the family," Maneggia said. "Seeing how many people are dealing with this now, it makes me feel like I can identify with these families. The silver lining is that more and more people are coming out to tell their stories to raise awareness about it. He would want this out there if it could help anybody not go down that road."