Photo of pill bottles on a counter in a pharmacy.
Published on: Jan 8, 2018

By Cassie Kizis | The Daily Collegian

Over the past decade, opioid abuse has become an increasingly prevalent issue in the United States. While there are a multitude of ways this issue can harm communities, perhaps the most visible way is the death toll.

According to the Center for Disease Control, over 42,000 people died from an opioid overdose in 2016. The death toll has risen so high that the CDC describes it as an “epidemic.”

Pennsylvania was fifth in the nation for fatal opioid overdoses in 2016, according to the CDC.

Many universities have taken steps to combat the epidemic, and Penn State lies among them as it plans to host a summit on Friday, Jan. 12.

Organized by the Social Science Research Institute at Penn State and co-sponsored by a plethora of other university departments, the summit will be held from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. in 122 Heritage Hall in the HUB-Robeson Center.

Susan McHale, the director of the SSRI and one of the driving forces behind the summit, outlined the primary goals, which includes identifying the distinct strengths the Penn State community has in combatting the opioid epidemic.

One of these strengths, McHale said, is the broad scope of the university. With the commonwealth campuses spread across the state, Penn State researchers are able to tap into a broader pool of knowledge than most universities, McHale said.

“It’s definitely a team effort,” McHale said. “And, it will continue to be a team effort.”

Glenn Sterner, a postdoctoral scholar at Penn State and one of the organizers behind the summit, also emphasized the significance of the commonwealth campuses’ involvement.

He explained that many commonwealth campuses have been doing research relatively independently so far, and the summit will be instrumental in tying together the research.

“I can’t underscore the importance of the commonwealth campuses enough,” Sterner said. He added that with the assistance of the campuses, Penn State can study the opioid epidemic in virtually every county in Pennsylvania.

Sterner said the broad scope of Penn State’s research is significant because Pennsylvania has one of the highest rates of fatal opioid overdoses in the country.

In aims of addressing this epidemic, the summit will feature a variety of activities to stimulate conversation between scholars. That includes flash talks and short presentations lead by faculty on their area of research, McHale said. Other activities will include roundtable discussions on developing an agenda to address the epidemic.

Kristie Auman-Bauer, SSRI communications manager, said she hopes that the results of the summit will encourage more discourse on the opioid epidemic in the future.

“We are hoping that this first summit, which we've limited to the Penn State community, will lead to a larger event open to practitioners in the field, those in government agencies and the general public,” Auman-Bauer said via email.