Dealing with Drugs: Ethical, Legal, and Policy Issues From the Opioid Epidemic to Budget-Busting Blockbuster Drugs

Annual Medical Ethics Conference – 2018

Friday, March 23, 2018
8:30 am – 4:30 pm (continental breakfast @ 8:00)

Scaife Hall – 11th Floor Conference Center
University of Pittsburgh
3550 Terrace Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15261

Ira R. Messer Lecture:
Combatting the High Price of Drugs: What does patient empowerment have to do with it?
Peter A. Ubel, MD
Madge and Dennis T. McLawhorn University Professor
Duke University

Plenary Lecture:
The Role of Healthcare Financing in Causing (and Curbing) Opioid Abuse
Valarie Blake, JD, MA
Associate Professor of Law
West Virginia University

Keynote Lecture:
Pain Management and Subjectivity in a Climate of Distrust: The Case of Opioid Contracts

Daniel Z. Buchman, MSW, PhD
Bioethicist, University Health Network
Assistant Professor, Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto

Conference Abstract and Objectives

This conference will explore the diverse roles drugs play in the health of individuals and the social and economic “health” of communities and American society. Speakers from the University of Pittsburgh and five other institutions will address ethical, legal, and policy issues associated with myriad uses and users of drugs.

Drug use, particularly the opioid epidemic, threatens the health and well-being of entire regions, communities, families, and individuals. Addressing the epidemic requires action at multiple levels from individual provider practices to state and national policies. At each level, ethical and legal issues arise. Two plenary lectures will address these issues, with Daniel Buchman (University of Toronto) focusing on the provider-patient relationship and Valarie Blake (West Virginia University) addressing systemic issues of healthcare financing and regulation. Issues regarding the opioid epidemic will be pursued in one “track” within the conference’s afternoon breakout sessions.

Simultaneously, blockbuster (and budget busting) new drugs promise life-saving and quality-of life enhancing benefits to patients suffering from chronic and acute conditions, but threaten the fiscal viability of our healthcare system. Peter Ubel (Duke University) will give the annual Ira R. Messer Lecture and will explore the relevance of patient empowerment for combatting high drug costs. The pharmaceutical industry’s social roles indeed raise ethical concerns about the health of our research and regulatory infrastructures and about transparency within the provider-patient relationship. A breakout session with George Loewenstein (Carnegie Mellon University) will discuss providers’ conflicts of interest and the effects of disclosing them on the provider-patient relationship.

Other breakout sessions will address issues associated with drugs for which scientific evidence and best practices are evolving. Pennsylvania has recently legalized the medical use of marijuana to improve patients’ quality of life. This legislative action raises legal and ethical questions for providers who, while waiting for the evidence to catch up to practice and for federal and state authorities to resolve policy differences, seek to provide compassionate care for severely ill patients who may benefit from medical marijuana. Pharmacogenomics (PGx) is at the forefront of precision medicine. While PGx is often considered to present far fewer ethical concerns than other aspects of genomic medicine, PGx offers an opportunity to consider at an early stage the ethical and policy questions that will be faced by patients, providers, and healthcare systems when precision medicine is more fully implemented. Ethical and policy issues associated with adherence to treatment regimens will be addressed in the contexts of both cancer and addiction treatment, while David Kappel and Valerie Satkoske (West Virginia State Trauma System and West Virginia University, respectively) will discuss development of ethical policy to guide valve replacement practices for patients with opioid use disorders who develop infected heart valves.

Following the conference, participants will be able to:

  • outline ethical, legal, and policy-related factors associated with the opioid epidemic’s development and interventions proposed to address it
  • explain ethical and policy issues associated with drugs/drug-related interventions for which scientific evidence and best practices are evolving
  • articulate ethical and policy challenges associated with the high cost and other burdens of drugs and other therapeutic interventions, including issues of adherence, access, and affordability

The 27th Annual Medical Ethics Conference

Providing attendees with an opportunity to learn from national and local experts about pressing medical ethics issues, the Center’s annual Medical Ethics Conference features morning plenary lectures with ample time for discussion and afternoon breakout sessions. This course is designed for clinicians and investigators, lawyers, clergy, community members, and students of the humanities and health and social sciences.

Continuing Education and Registration Information

With reduced rates this year, continuing education credit in medicine, law, social work, and dental medicine will be available.

To register, see
For additional information, contact Jody Stockdill.