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Penn’s Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics will hold a virtual event this Friday about opioid-related deaths. Credit: Jesse Zhang

Penn’s Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics will hold a virtual event with nationally recognized academics this Friday to discuss opioid-related deaths.

The event — “An Action Plan for Reducing Opioid Overdose Deaths” — will be held virtually at 12 p.m. as a Zoom webinar featuring panelists such as University of Southern California professor Ricky Bluthenthal, Stanford University professor Keith Humphreys, and former acting director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy Regina LaBelle. The speakers will discuss a variety of potential policy solutions to the opioid epidemic.

Penn Nursing assistant professor Shoshana Aronowitz will moderate the event, which will be co-sponsored by the Center for Health Economics of Treatment Interventions for Substance Use Disorder, HCV, and HIV

Aronowitz said that panelists will discuss some of the federal policy changes that the Biden administration has implemented to overcome barriers to treatment amid the pandemic, including harm-reduction treatments rather than the punitive approaches promoted by previous administrations.

Penn LDI aims to connect faculty with shared interests across the University, allowing them to collaborate on projects. The institute’s Opioid Epidemic Working Group, for example, is currently working to release public research briefs and federal policy recommendations. In a brief published in March 2021, it called for improved access to prevention, treatment, and recovery services, mortality reduction strategies, and limitations on the overprescription of opioids.

Fellows at the institute have been conducting relevant research through the Opioid Epidemic Working Group for several years. Aronowitz is both a senior fellow at Penn LDI and a member of the working group, as well as a family nurse practitioner focused on access to substance-use disorder treatment. 

According to Aronowitz, opioid-related deaths saw nearly a 30% increase from April 2020 to April 2021. 

The institute also allows Penn to connect with groups at other universities, Aronowitz added, providing access to nationally recognized experts like LaBelle, who was the first woman to serve as acting director of the ONDCP under the Biden administration and is now director of the Addiction and Public Policy Initiative at Georgetown’s O’Neill Institute. 

Penn LDI Director Rachel Werner said that she expects between 200 and 400 attendees at the hour-long panel. Although attendees will not be able to actively participate in the conversation, they will be able to submit questions to the panelists in a chat box monitored by the moderators.

Aronowitz said that Penn's recommendations are often taken into serious consideration by government officials, given the University's influence.

“I don’t think anyone thinks that we’ll figure it all out in this webinar, but I think it’s an opportunity for experts in this field to talk about what their research has found and what they think needs to happen," Aronowitz said.