Introduction to “Diseases of Despair: The Role of Policy and Law”

By Wendy E. Parmet and Jennifer Lea Huer

We are pleased to host this symposium featuring commentary from speakers and participants of Northeastern University School of Law’s annual health law conference, Diseases of Despair: The Role of Policy and Law, organized by the Center for Health Policy and Law.

All the posts in the series will be available here.

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Promoting Health Equity Through Health in all Policies Programs: A Health Law Perspective

Scholars and public health advocates are optimistic about Health in All Policies initiatives.

This post is part of a symposium from speakers and participants of Northeastern University School of Law’s annual health law conference, Diseases of Despair: The Role of Policy and Law, organized by the Center for Health Policy and Law.

All the posts in the series are available here.

By Peter D. Jacobson

Scholars and public health advocates have expressed optimism about the potential for Health in All Policies (HiAP) initiatives to improve both health equity and population health. HiAP is a collaborative approach across all sectors, involving both public and private decision-makers, to integrate health and equity during the development, implementation, and evaluation of policies and services. Braveman and colleagues define health equity to mean that “that everyone has a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible.”

I suspect the vast majority of health law scholars support the concept of health equity. But what does the concept mean in practice and how can it be implemented? From a public health law perspective, does implementation require a legal imprimatur or can it be effectively designed and implemented absent some sort of legal mandate?

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The Healing Potential of Medical-Legal Partnerships

This post is part of a symposium from speakers and participants of Northeastern University School of Law’s annual health law conference, Diseases of Despair: The Role of Policy and Law, organized by the Center for Health Policy and Law.

All the posts in the series are available here.

By Tamar Ezer

As we grapple with today’s social ills and Diseases of Despair such as the opioid crisis, violence and suicide, medical-legal partnerships (MLPs), can potentially provide a powerful healing combination.

MLPs, which integrate legal services into health care, have several important strengths.

They embrace a holistic approach to health, addressing not just biological factors, but also social determinants, such as access to housing or freedom from violence. They bring access to justice to communities. People need not go out to seek legal support, but can find services at a one-stop shop for multiple, intersecting needs. MLPs help address legal issues early, preventing problems and intervening before there is an eviction or utilities are shut off.

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Resiliency as Prevention against Diseases of Despair and Structural Violence

This post is part of a symposium from speakers and participants of Northeastern University School of Law’s annual health law conference, Diseases of Despair: The Role of Policy and Law, organized by the Center for Health Policy and Law.

All the posts in the series are available here.

By JoHanna Flacks

If despair is the disease, what is the remedy? I was privileged to participate in a panel with colleagues from the medical-legal partnership (MLP) movement at a Diseases of Despair conference convened by Northeastern University’s School of Law in April. We were invited to share how MLP approaches can answer this question broadly by helping to identify and implement interventions that show promise as despair antidotes or – better yet – antibodies that can prevent despair’s onset.

While hope is despair’s antonym in common usage, the idea of “resiliency” has taken root among healthcare and human service teams as a key quality to cultivate among, for example, survivors of adverse childhood experiences (ACES) who are at risk of poorer health and well-being in the absence of buffers from the toxic stress of these traumas.

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Many State Laws Undermine Harm Reduction Strategies in the Opioid Crisis

A protest sign seen at an ACT UP demonstration. Syringe exchange programs are a harm reduction policy that could have an impact on the opioid crisis. (Photo by riekhavoc/flickr)

This post is part of a symposium from speakers and participants of Northeastern University School of Law’s annual health law conference, Diseases of Despair: The Role of Policy and Law, organized by the Center for Health Policy and Law.

All the posts in the series are available here.

By Aila Hoss

Despite the increase in rates of opioid overdose death since 1999, the Opioid Use Disorder crisis shows little signs of abating. Recent reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that overdose death rates have continued to climb in recent years. These sobering reports, along with others highlighting the impact of the crisis on children and families, the increase in methamphetamine and cocaine use, and the economic costs to businesses, communities and our healthcare system remind us that “opioid addiction isn’t the disease; it’s the symptom.”

There is “no easy fix” to the social and economic determinants of health, such as poverty and housing insecurity, that are fueling this crisis. However, there are actionable, discrete, evidence-based policy measures that can be taken to reduce the rates of overdose deaths via harm reduction strategies.

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Reports on the Opioid Crisis are Full of Misidentified Problems and Poorly Calibrated Solutions

Photo by striatic/flickr

This post is part of a symposium from speakers and participants of Northeastern University School of Law’s annual health law conference, Diseases of Despair: The Role of Policy and Law, organized by the Center for Health Policy and Law.

All the posts in the series are available here.

By Nicolas Terry

The epidemic associated with Opioid Use Disorder (OUD) has birthed a proliferation of reports, many with notable provenance. They include the Surgeon General’s Report (2016), the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis (2017),  and the National Governors Association Recommendations for Federal Action to End the Nation’s Opioid Crisis (2018). We can add innumerable regional and state reports to that list.

Placed next to each other, their recommendations are broadly similar. While they may differ somewhat to the extent that they emphasize criminalization versus medicalization, overall, they tend to coalesce around harm reduction (such as broad naloxone availability and syringe exchanges), upstream opioid reduction strategies (such as prescription limits and prescription drug monitoring programs), and increased public health surveillance based on improved data collection and analysis.

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Physicians and Firearms: Finding a Duty to Talk to Patients About Guns

Sixty-one percent of gun deaths in 2015 were suicides. Physicians should be empowered to speak to patients about guns.

By Elisabeth J. Ryan

This post is part of a symposium from speakers and participants of Northeastern University School of Law’s annual health law conference, Diseases of Despair: The Role of Policy and Law, organized by the Center for Health Policy and Law.

All the posts in the series are available here.

Florida enacted a statute in 2011 entitled the “Firearms Owners’ Privacy Act,” which quickly became known nationwide as simply the “Docs v. Glocks” law.

This law essentially forbade doctors from asking their patients about gun ownership, recording information about guns in the home, and “unnecessarily harassing” patients for being gun owners. The penalty was potential medical license sanctions and a fine up to $10,000.

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