Press release 90/22 - 03.11.2022

The opioid crisis: The USA and Germany in comparison

German Chancellor Fellow Leo O’Toole is investigating the structural and institutional causes of the ‘drug epidemic’ at the Institute for Bio, Health and Medical Law at the University of Augsburg.

According to statistics, between 450,000 and 600,000 people have died due to a drug-related death in the past 20 years in the USA. As a lawyer for the New York State Attorney General's Office, Leo OʼToole dealt with the legal aspects of the opioid crisis. His commitment has now taken him beyond national boundaries to the University of Augsburg’s Faculty of Law where he is working at the intersection of medicine, politics, and the law. With a German Chancellor Fellowship from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, O’Toole is investigating why Germany has not faced a similar crisis. 

German Chancellor Fellow Leo O’Toole (left) is researching the opioid crisis in Augsburg. He is being supervised by Professor Michael Kubiciel from the Institute for Bio, Health and Medical Law. © University of Augsburg

“I not only want to understand what crucial differences exist in the health systems of both countries that fuel or keep an opioid crisis at bay but also what role the legal systems play,” explains German Chancellor Fellow Leo OʼToole.This includes questions related to the role of litigation procedures and how to deal with mass offending and a wave of lawsuits related to the opioid crisis.

O’Toole will be conducting research at Augsburg’s Institute for Bio, Health and Medical Law until September 2023, which brings together all the relevant legal fields and works closely with the Centre for Interdisciplinary Health Research.

More than a study of current legal systems

Unlike in the USA, the increase in prescription narcotics has not caused as many deaths in Germany. While O’Toole has so far dealt with criminal and civil proceedings related to the opioid crisis, he is now investigating country-specific legal and institutional characteristics that led to their development. The German Chancellor Fellow is being supervised by Professor Michael Kubiciel, who researches corruption in the health care sector and corresponding regulatory issues. “US lawyers, in particular, tend to focus on their own legal system,” he says. “O’Toole’s focus beyond national and disciplinary borders alongside his methodological approach are therefore particularly noteworthy.” “Following his training in political science and law, OʼToole not only examines pure ‘black letter law,’ that is, the existing rules of law, but also the economic and political conditions that led to the emergence of this law and its interpretation,” explains Kubiciel.

O’Toole studied law at the elite Yale University, was as editor of the Yale Journal of International Law, and worked as a clerk for a federal judge, helping to address the opioid crisis from a legal perspective at the Attorney General's Office in New York.

With the German Chancellor Fellowship Programme, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation sponsors emerging future leaders from various countries, including the People's Republic of China, India, South Africa, and the USA. During their one-year stay at a host institution, the fellows from politics, public administration, business, civil society or culture work on a research-related project with social relevance.

Scientific contact person

Lehrstuhlinhaber | Studiendekan | Geschäftsführender Direktor des Instituts für die gesamte Strafrechtswissenschaft
Prof. Dr. Dr. h. c. Michael Kubiciel - Lehrstuhl für Deutsches, Europäisches und Internationales Straf- und Strafprozessrecht, Medizin- und Wirtschaftsstrafrecht

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Corina Härning
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