A regional conference on the opioid epidemic is being held this Wednesday in Piketon, Ohio. An Ohio University faculty member is chairing the event.

According to a news release, “In this free regional conference, we will present an overview of the opioid epidemic and its key drivers, efforts undertaken to curb the crisis, and perspectives from the legal community, private sectors and academia.”

Speakers are mainly from communities in the region, including Athens, Hocking and Scioto counties, though the keynote speech is being delivered by Don Kyle, Ph.D., vice president for discovery research and non-clinical development at Purdue Pharma L.P.

For the past several months and going back years, Purdue Pharma has been receiving no small amount of critical news coverage and legal attention for its alleged role in lighting a fuse to the opioid crisis and using aggressive sales tactics to market the drugs.

Its Wikipedia entryreads: “Purdue Pharma L.P. is a privately held pharmaceutical company owned principally by descendants of Mortimer and Raymond Sackler.In 2007, it paid out one of the largest fines ever levied against a pharmaceutical firm for mislabeling its product OxyContin, and three executives were found guilty of criminal charges. Although the company has shifted its focus to abuse-deterrent formulations, Purdue continues to market and sell opioids, and continues to be involved in lawsuits around the opioid crisis.” (The entry is exhaustively footnoted.)

The company has defended itself by, among other things, saying that its percentage of overall opioid sales over the years has been relatively small. In May, after five more states sued the company in connection with its alleged role in the opioid crisis, Purdue released this statement: “Purdue Pharma vigorously denies the allegations in the lawsuits filed today and will continue to defend itself against these misleading attacks.”

Wednesday’s free conference runs from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at the OSU Endeavor Center, 1862 Shyville Road, Piketon. It’s located a little more than an hour southwest of uptown Athens.

The news release for the conference summarizes the ongoing opioid crisis: “The headlines are grim, alarming, and have become familiar… For over a decade, headlines have been seen on front pages of newspapers across the country. From Maine, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky to Utah. ‘Drug Deaths in America Are Rising Faster Than Before’ wrote The New York Timeson June 5, 2017. Some states, including West Virginia, New Hampshire, Ohio and Maryland are carrying the burden of opioid-related deaths. However, the opioid driven drug overdose crisis touches every state in the country.”

“In Ohio,” the news release states, “the death toll for drug overdose was 4,854 in 2017, of which 3,431 deaths were related to fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 50-100 times more potent than morphine. These drug overdose deaths represent a 20 percent increase from 2016 in Ohio.

"Ohio responded to the epidemic by turning to science and technology with the Opioid Technology Challenge," the release continued, "taking legal action against pharmaceutical companies, and promoting treatment and prevention. Federal, state, and local governments’ response to the crisis also focused on treatment and prevention. In 2017, the federal government declared the opioid epidemic a public-health emergency. Academia, private industries, and government research institutions have turned to science and technology with innovation."

Chairing the conference is Jules Guei, assistant professor in analytical and forensic chemistry at Ohio University.

Free registration for the conference – for which some places remained as of Monday afternoon – can be completed at www.endeavorcenterconference.com.

Sponsoring the conference is State Street Laboratories, LLC, in Piketon. It operates a full-service toxicology laboratory, while offering forensic consulting and customized tests for drugs.

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