An SFU professor is being recognized by the university for his groundbreaking contributions to drug policy and public health.

Donald MacPherson, executive director of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition in the faculty of health sciences, has been awarded the Nora and Ted Sterling Prize in Support of Controversy for his work in driving unconventional policy solutions to address drug problems, especially in BC.

The controversy prize was started in 1993 and each year is awarded annually to recognize “work that provokes and contributes to the understanding of controversy,” according to the university website.

“Controversy is academically important because all views must be considered, including alternative and not-politically acceptable solutions to the problem,” MacPherson told The Peak in an interview.

MacPherson authored the four pillars drug strategy adopted by the City of Vancouver which focuses on harm reduction and appropriate substance regulation.

With Vancouver expecting to have a sharp increase in overdose numbers this year, the decisions that will be made in terms of drug policy will be ones of high impact. Donald MacPherson and his team at the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition work to challenge the provincial and federal government to consider radical and progressive change so that in the future we can avoid another episode of spiking drug overdoses.

“It is a needless and preventable disaster. We need to learn from the past — leaving the substances in the hands of organized crime doesn’t work,” said MacPherson. “The criminalization of the substances equals to criminalization of the users. This stigma pushes people away from getting the help they need.”

“Students are part of a broad movement to reform Canada’s drug policies. They are a very important voice,” said MacPherson, who calls for students to be advocates for harm reduction and overdose prevention strategies, especially for events like music festivals and pub nights. He hopes that students will get involved in the cause through Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy.

With fentanyl being a potentially lethal, popular addition to the underground drug scene and accounting for about 60% of overdose deaths last year, change within the drug policy on a political level is becoming a matter of urgency.

“Judy Darcy and her [provincial] team have a chance to make history by supporting some of the most progressive interventions that have been called for in Canada. BC has the worst situation regarding overdose and therefore BC has to be very aggressive in implementing strategies to safer drugs. The province should immediately fund the pass for us to advocate and implement innovative approaches to replace the toxic drug supply with a safer drug supply,” said MacPherson.

“The number one recommendation I can make to the federal government on this issue is decriminalization and putting a process in place to legally regulate all of these substances.”