Distinguished SFU Professor Kora DeBeck receives a 2024 Dorothy Killam Fellowship

March 19, 2024

A Distinguished SFU Professor at Simon Fraser University’s School of Public Policy and a research scientist at the BC Centre on Substance Use, Dr. Kora DeBeck was awarded the prestigious Dorothy Killam Fellowship, which supports accomplished scholars whose ground-breaking research stands to have a significant impact on a national or global scale.

Since 2013, DeBeck has led the At-Risk Youth Study (ARYS), which started in 2005 and tracks over 1,200 street-involved youth who use drugs in Vancouver. With the support of the Dorothy Killam Fellowship, she will be analyzing this data and working with knowledge user collaborators to explore three key interventions for young people: prescribed safe supply, decriminalization of personal possession of drugs, and expansion of addiction treatment services in BC.

Specializing in substance use and drug policy, DeBeck's research informs policy interventions targeting the health and well-being of structurally marginalized youth. Her research challenges prevailing drug enforcement models, highlighting their inefficacy and unintended harms. DeBeck advocates for policy reforms addressing systemic factors contributing to drug-related harms, particularly amidst British Columbia's toxic drug crisis.

DeBeck's proposed research delves into the crisis of toxic drug use, employing data-driven methods to analyze and guide public policies aimed at tackling substance use and its associated harms. Emphasizing the importance of robust scientific evidence, her work aims to understand the effectiveness, limitations, and consequences of policy interventions concerning the drug poisoning crisis.

Utilizing data from the ARYS cohort, the project will investigate the effects of both innovative and contentious approaches, such as providing a safer supply of drugs and decriminalizing drug possession for structurally marginalized youth who are involved in substance use in three key ways: 

  1. Investigating the extent, scope, and effects of safe supply interventions on subsequent patterns of drug use, long-term trajectories of engagement in addiction treatment, and health outcomes.
  2. Assessing impacts of decriminalizing personal drug possession on interactions with the criminal justice system and health and social services.
  3. Describing the extent, scope, and effects of participation in addiction treatment on enduring patterns of drug use, including the cessation of daily drug use over the long term.

The future of Canada hinges on the development of substance use policies and programs that effectively combat associated harms. This research is positioned to support a transformation in current approaches to substance use intervention and ultimately save lives