AUWCL’s Health Law and Policy Program Hosts Opioid Crisis Conference
February 25, 2019
On Feb. 22, 2019, American University Washington College of Law’s Health Law and Policy Program hosted “The Opioid Crisis: Rethinking Policy and Law.”
Over 150 people attended the day-long interdisciplinary conference, sponsored by American University’s School of Public Affairs (SPA) with support from the American Health Lawyers Association (AHLA) and Wawa Inc., which brought together leading experts from across the country in the fields of public policy, law, economics, medicine, public health, law enforcement, and emergency response to re-imagine policies and laws related to the opioid epidemic.
“Opioid abuse has become a public health crisis of epic proportions – one that goes simply beyond regulating the prescription and illicit drug supply,” said AUWCL Dean Camille Nelson, who along with SPA Dean Vicky Wilkins and AHLA Executive Vice President and CEO David S. Cade, gave welcoming remarks. “Like so many other epidemics, it is rooted in social, economic, legal, and moral determinants, including our approach to mental health and alternative pain management.”
The conference’s six unique panel discussions focused on community prevention, access to pain treatment, access to treatment for substance use disorders, harm reduction, and the civil and criminal justice system’s response to the ongoing crisis.
In her introduction of keynote speaker Dr. Tom Farley, health commissioner of Philadelphia, American University President and former Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Mathews Burwell told the story of Jessie Grubb – a young woman struggling with heroin addiction whose family Burwell met at a town hall hosted by then-President Barack Obama in 2015.
At the town hall, Grubb’s family shared their daughter’s ongoing journey of recovery in hopes that it would help others struggling with the same addiction, Burwell said. But despite knowing Grubb was in recovery, doctors prescribed Grubb a powerful opioid following a running injury, leading to her death by overdose in 2016. Lawmakers responded with “Jessie’s Law,” which ensures doctors have access to a consenting patient's prior history of addiction in order to make fully informed care and treatment decisions.
“We know almost 700,000 people died from a drug overdose from 1999 to 2017, and more than 400,000 of those are opioid (related) specifically. We know that the rate of those deaths have increased – the number of annual deaths was six times higher in 2017 than 1999, according to the CDC. And we know that the latest data still shows that we lose 130 people every day to this epidemic,” Burwell said.
During a keynote discussion with Health Law and Policy Program Director and Professor Lindsay Wiley, Farley drew parallels between the current opioid crisis and the AIDS epidemic, spoke about the positives of introducing overdose prevention sites, and addressed the importance of multi-department collaboration in cities like Philadelphia.
“We work closely with the police department, and have long given up on the idea that we’re going to arrest our way out of this problem,” Farley said, adding that police work can create “conduits into treatment” in order to help, rather than punish, those suffering with opioid addiction.
“We’re thrilled to bring together leading researchers, practitioners, and advocates for this important event,” Wiley said. “Addressing a multi-dimensional crisis—and preventing the next one—requires us to collaborate across disciplines and professions, a lesson this conference really brings home for our students.”
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