Donald MacPherson, executive director of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition and author of the seminal Four Pillars Drug Strategy, received Adler University’s first-ever honourary doctorate in Canada at the 2019 Commencement ceremony on October 27. The university chose MacPherson for his pioneering work in drug policy reform, advocacy, and advancing the human rights and social inclusion of people who use substances.
“Donald MacPherson exemplifies the social justice work that we pursue at Adler University,” said Joy MacPhail, Chair of the Board of Trustees at Adler University. “His cutting-edge efforts aim to improve public health and safety by reforming drug policies and by promoting the human rights of people who use substances. His work reminds us how much more needs to be done to address the overdose crisis and we hope our graduates are inspired by MacPherson’s advocacy to advance social justice throughout their careers.”
The award is also a recognition of the tragic loss of life caused by the illicit, unregulated drug market—a product of our flawed drug policies—as a defining human rights and social justice issue of our time. “I am honoured to receive this award from Adler University and the acknowledgement that the work to change archaic and harmful public policies is one of the challenges of our times,” said MacPherson. “We are living through a time of catastrophic failure of the way we approach people who use criminalized drugs. Our systems are terribly broken and must be replaced.”
In Canada, 12,813 people have died from opioid-related deaths between 2016 and March 2019. Life expectancy has failed to increase for the first time in over four decades; and in British Columbia, overdose death is now the largest major cause of unnatural death, outpacing accidental deaths from homicides, suicides, and car accidents combined. The provinces of Alberta and Ontario have also been especially hard hit, with Ontario last year recording a record number of fatalities from overdose.
MacPherson has been a guest lecturer for Adler University’s public policy and administration program. All Adler University graduate-level degree programs are strongly rooted in the principles of social justice and offer students hands-on learning experiences at more than 200 community partner organizations. Many students work at organizations that address the overdose crisis, providing mental health and other services.
MacPherson is also an adjunct professor in Simon Fraser University’s Faculty of Health Sciences, of which the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition is a part, and co-author of Raise Sh*t! Social Action Saving Lives (2009) and More Harm than Good: Drug Policy in Canada (2016). He is involved in drug policy work at a local, national, and international level and was North America’s first Drug Policy Coordinator at the City of Vancouver where he worked for 22 years.