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Addressing the Overdose Epidemic: Substance Use Policy for the Biden Administration

March 24th, 2021 @ 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm

For twenty years, overdose deaths in the U.S. have sharply increased. In 2019, more than 70,000 Americans died of drug-related causes. Preliminary data suggests the COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating this trend.

To address the overdose crisis, President Biden released a plan for increased utilization of drug courts and mandatory drug treatment. But these interventions are controversial, and critics raise credible concerns. Unwilling to wait for updated federal legislation, several U.S. cities and states are taking innovative approaches to the overdose crisis.

This past November, Oregon voters approved Measure 110, which decriminalizes possession of small amounts of all drugs, and uses tax revenue from the state’s marijuana industry to increase access to voluntary drug treatment. Meanwhile, six U.S. cities have decriminalized psychedelic substances such as psilocybin, which could mitigate problematic substance use and related mental health conditions. Similar bills have been introduced in California and Washington State.

Alongside Measure 110, Oregonians passed Measure 109, which creates the first legal industry for psilocybin-assisted therapy. In January, Florida State Representative Michael Grieco introduced HB 549, modeled on Measure 109; Massachusetts and Connecticut are exploring similar legislation.

This panel will explore the strengths and shortcomings of U.S. drug policy and discuss what the Biden administration might learn from countries, cities, and states taking innovative approaches to problematic substance use.


  • Introduction: Carmel Shachar, Executive Director, The Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School
  • State Rep. Lauren Davis, Washington State House of Representatives
  • State Rep. Michael Grieco, Florida House of Representatives
  • Jennifer D. Oliva, JD, MBA, Associate Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Health & Pharmaceutical Law, Seton Hall Law School
  • Leo Beletsky, JD, MPH, Professor of Law and Health Sciences and Faculty Director of the Health in Justice Action Lab, Northeastern University School of Law
  • Moderator: Mason Marks, Assistant Professor of Law, Gonzaga University; Fellow in Ethics of Technological and Biomedical Innovation, Edmond J. Safra and Petrie-Flom Centers, Harvard University

Sponsored by the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School and the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University.


Date: March 24th, 2021
Time: 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm
Calendars: Public Events
Event types: Lectures / Seminars / Forums