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School of Law, Medicine Professors Join Forces to Teach 'Law and the Opioid Crisis'

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Jessica L. Ciccone
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Saint Louis University is a leader in opioid abuse education.

The School of Medicine launched an addiction medicine fellowship - the first in Missouri - in January. Also, this spring, faculty from the School of Law and the School of Medicine came together to create a course at the legal and medical intersection of opioid abuse.

Scott Hall

The Law and the Opioid Crisis was co-taught by faculty in the School of Law and the School of Medicine. SLU file photo.

Chad Flanders, J.D., a professor of law, and Fred Rottnek, M.D., a professor of family and community medicine, co-taught an innovative mini-course in the School of Law, Law and the Opioid Crisis.

Flanders and Rottnek first met at a SLU Mission and Identity event a few years ago. They started exchanging information and contacts on community project and shared interests.

Flanders teaches criminal law and criminal procedure. Rottnek has had clinical practices in homeless health care, correctional health care and is now the program director of the addiction medicine fellowship in SLU’s Department of Family and Community Medicine. With Rottnek receiving a secondary appointment in the School of Law through the Center for Health Law Studies, the two decided it was time to jump in and commit to teaching a course together.

Flanders and Rottnek collected key intersections of opioid abuse and law. Topics ranged from the history of the current epidemic to health care to civil cases to proliferation of diversion courts. 

“Classes like this are helpful, because they teach two things: that law is involved with a lot of society's problems - both as a cause and a solution - but that law isn't always the answer,” Flanders said. “So you learn to be humble about what law and lawyers can do.” 

The small course included students in their second and third years in law school. Classes were lively has it became clear that policies, laws and interventions often don't reflect science, and both well-meaning prescribing patterns and legislative intervention often have unintended detrimental consequences. 

We look forward to opening the course to resident physicians and other health care professionals in the future. This course is an opportunity for students and faculty to learn about, from, and with each other to continue improving both our practices and our policies around opioid use in the U.S.”

Fred Rottnek, M.D.

Students were asked to read ahead and submit questions for a rotating group of guest speakers. The students challenged the speakers and each other to find more effective and humane approaches to health care, public health and legal systems that provide the services which could actually promote human flourishing - rather than individual or corporate profits.

Guest lecturers included SLU faculty Jen Bello-Kottenstette, M.D., an assistant professor of family and community medicine, who, along with St. Louis County Department of Public Health’s Emily Varner, presented their work with the County Jail in building their opioid use disorder treatment program. Judge Jack Garvey presented his work in representing Missouri Counties in mass tort suits against opioid manufacturers and distributors. 

Tim Cronin and Johnny Simon from Simon Law discussed their strategies in approaching personal injury claims involving opioids. County Diversion Administrator Julia Fogelberg (Law ’13) presented her reforms with St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell. 

Erin Collins, law faculty at the University of Richmond, presented her research on problems with problem solving courts. The course ended with Valena Beatty, a criminal defense attorney working with clients with opioid use disorder.

“The students enjoyed learning about the underlying biology of addiction,” Rottnek said. “And I was delighted to hear them incorporate these principles to dispel arguments as addiction as weakness or moral failing.” 

We look forward to opening the course to resident physicians and other health care professionals in the future. This course is an opportunity for students and faculty to learn about, from, and with each other to continue improving both our practices and our policies around opioid use in the U.S.” 

The semester ended with problem-solving reflection papers that prompted students to identify and extend class discussions about reforms that could build better information exchange among medicine, public health and law to create healthier citizens of a healthier society. 


Saint Louis University (SLU) is a Catholic, Jesuit institution that values academic excellence, life-changing research, compassionate health care, and a strong commitment to faith and service. Founded in 1818, the University fosters the intellectual and character development of nearly 13,000 students on two campuses in St. Louis and Madrid, Spain. Building on a legacy of nearly 200 years, Saint Louis University continues to move forward with an unwavering commitment to a higher purpose, a greater good. Learn more at www.slu.edu.