Kora DeBeck

Associate Professor | CIHR Applied Public Health Chair & Dorothy Killam Fellow


Dr. Kora DeBeck is an Associate Professor in the School of Public Policy at Simon Fraser University, a CIHR Applied Public Health Chair and a Dorothy Killam Fellow. She is also a Research Scientist with the BC Centre on Substance Use and the Principal Investigator for the At-Risk Youth Study (ARYS) -a longitudinal cohort of >1,200 street-involved youth who use drugs in Vancouver. The cohort began in 2005 and is funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and US National Institutes for Health Research. ARYS aims to explore the individual, social, economic, and environmental factors that influence the health and well-being of street-involved children, youth, and young adults in Vancouver.

DeBeck specialises in substance use and drug policy. With a background in social epidemiology, she draws on longitudinal cohort methodologies and innovative approaches to inform and evaluate policy interventions that promote the health and well-being of people who use drugs and their surrounding communities. She has a particular focus on the prevention of high-risk substance use, infectious diseases, and other drug related harms among structurally marginalized young people.

With >190 peer-reviewed journal articles and a strong track record of knowledge mobilization and cross-sector engagement, DeBeck’s work seeks to drive reforms in substance use policy and health services. She is consistently engaged in research that challenges social norms and strives to improve how we respond to substance use. Key contributions include demonstrating that prevailing models of drug law enforcement are ineffective and carry serious unintended negative harms. She has shown that: criminalization of drug use hinders HIV prevention; incarceration is linked to a decreased likelihood of quitting drug injection and an increased likelihood of relapse into substance use; and incarceration has been discriminatory, disproportionately affecting Indigenous young people in Vancouver. DeBeck has documented significant deficiencies in service engagement for young people who use drugs. These include delays in accessing addiction treatment, limited impacts of addiction treatment, and inadequacies in harm reduction services. Her findings have been influential in shifting approaches to drug policy away from criminalization models and towards policy frameworks that address the underlying systemic factors contributing to drug related harms. She is now focused on using data-driven science to respond to the toxic drug crisis, the current leading cause of unnatural death in British Columbia.

DeBeck is committed to addressing social inequities and promoting positive change through inclusive engagement, public outreach, compassionate advocacy, and uncompromising research integrity. She has achieved numerous distinctions including CIHR doctoral, post-doctoral, and new investigator awards, a Michael Smith Health Research BC/St. Paul's Hospital Foundation-PHCRI Career Scholar Award, and a Distinguished SFU Professorship. Throughout her career, she has secured >50 grants totaling >$50 million, including $21 million as principal or co-principal investigator.

DeBeck’s training included a post-doctoral fellow with the Division of AIDS in the Department of Medicine at UBC and the Centre for Public Health and Human Rights at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (2012), PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies at UBC (2010), Masters in Public Policy at SFU (2006), and BA (honours) in Political Science at McGill University (2002).

Learn more about the At-Risk Youth Study here

Research Interests

  • Health policy, Drug Use Amongst Vulnerable Populations, Youth Health and Addiction

Selected Publications


Current Grants as Principal Investigator

Completed Grants as Principal Investigator