Opioid Overdose Epidemic

A regional response to a complex public health issue such as the opioid epidemic requires cooperation across varied disciplines and philosophies. The Institute’s initiative examines the partnership among University of Pittsburgh, UPMC, and three regional counties at the core of the opioid epidemic and argues how collectively they may establish unified strategic goals along a common “continuum of care” model to advance Southwestern Pennsylvania's response to the opioid epidemic. This strategy has been conceptualized in a report entitled, “A Continuum of Care Approach: Western Pennsylvania’s Response to the Opioid Epidemic.” Recognizing that the crisis is simultaneously one of public health and public safety, the report identifies gaps in existing protocols and programs. To address these gaps and build upon Western Pennsylvania’s existing successes in combating the epidemic, the report advances recommendations for public health and public safety organizations across the region. The report also includes a series of immediate to long-term goals that are designed to stem the tide of opioids/heroin in regional communities, educate and engage professionals and the public to reduce overdose deaths, and provide substance-use disorder patients with quality treatment options and pathways to full recovery.

Following the release of the report, the Institute in partnership with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Pennsylvania and the University of Pittsburgh, School of Pharmacy’s Program Evaluation and Research Unit (PERU) hosted three community opioid forums in Indiana, Pa.; Erie, Pa.; and Youngwood (Westmoreland County), Pa.

Next Steps

The Institute continues its work on the regional response to the opioid epidemic, though it has shifted focus to new intitaitves. The Institute's Chair, Mark Nordenberg, served as the editor of a special issue of Commonwealth that will focus on the opioid overdose crisis and identify possible policy solutions in a range of related areas. Commonwealth has as its mission providing relevant information to Pennsylvania policy-makers. The issue includes seven articles written by distinguished addiction professionals, as well as an article written by Attorney General Josh Shapiro from a law-enforcement perspective and an introduction written by Chancellor Emeritus Nordenberg. To access the special issue click here

Additionally, Patricia Beeson, Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh, asked Chancellor Emeritus Nordenberg to serve as chair of a University Opioid Task Force. The task force which was charged with developing a comprehensive and coordinated plan to reduce opioid abuse, dependence and overdose among the students on Pitt’s five campuses. Members of the task force included Pitt faculty members, UPMC clinicians, student life and law enforcement professionals as well as students and the mother of a Pitt student who died of an overdose. Other Southwestern Pennsylvania colleges and universities as well as the Allegheny County Health Department expressed early interest in this work, and the report of the task force, Opioid Use Disorder: Prevention, Treatment and Recovery, was made public in June of 2018.    


Regional Programs

  • April 26, 2017 - Indiana, Pa. - Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex
  • May 31, 2017 - Erie, Pa. - Sheraton Erie Bayfront Hotel
  • January 17, 2018 - Youngwood, Pa. - Westmoreland County Community College

Resource Information

News Coverage


  • Madeleine O’Neill, “Pa. attorney general talks opioid crisis at Erie symposium,” May 31, 2017 - Link

Pitt News

  • Maria Heines, “Among short-term fixes, Pitt develops long-term plan to combat nationwide opioid crisis,” May 31, 2017 - Link 
  • The Pitt News Editorial Board, “Opioid task force overlooks some addiction complexities,” October 6, 2016 - Link

Pitt Wire

  • "Pitt Task Force Outlines Framework for Confronting Nationwide Opioid Crisis," June 22, 2018 - Link

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

  • Karen Langley, “State lawmakers looking at forced treatment as option to combat opioid crisis,” February 20, 2017 - Link 
  • Rich Lord, “Task force: Opioid crisis fixes include hard handoff,” October 6, 2016 - Link 
  • Rich Lord, “In southwestern Pennsylvania, joint approach to opioid epidemic emerging,” August 30, 2016 - Link
  • Caroline Engelmayer, "Pitt's opioids task force releases recommendations," June 22, 2018 - Link

Observer Reporter (Washington County)

  • Barbara Miller, “Washington County drug overdose deaths could reach 100 this year,” December 21, 2016 - Link

Pittsburgh Business Times

  • Lydia Nuzum, “Report: Data collection, lack of beds hinder opioid abuse treatment,” October 5, 2017 - Link


  • Lisa Washington, “Advisory Group Close to Revealing Plan to Tackle Opioid & Heroin Epidemic,” August 30, 2016 - Link

NBC 10 (Philadelphia)

  • Joe Mandak, “Some Coroners Thwarting Drug Overdose Data Efforts: Feds,” October 5, 2016 - Link