The Four Pillars Revisited


Philip Owen [Left] and Donald MacPherson [Right] are architects of Vancouver’s “Four Pillars” drug policies. Now they fear those pillars are crumbling.

In 2001, after much campaigning by activists, academics and public health officials, Vancouver’s municipal council approved the boldest, most progressive drug policy in North America: A Framework For Action: A Four-Pillar Approach to Vancouver’s Drug Problems.

The Four Pillars‘ philosophy was simple but revolutionary: the government should lessen the harms associated with drug use, even if those drugs are illegal. The document made 36 recommendations, including heroin prescription, methadone maintenance and supervised injection.

However, the Four Pillars was passed over 13 years ago. Where do they stand today? This is our 5-part investigative series, The Four Pillars Revisited, produced in partnership with The Tyee, podcasted on iTunes and syndicated on campus radio stations at the University of British Columbia, the University of Victoria and Simon Fraser University.

The Four Pillars Revisited is written and produced by Gordon Katic and Sam Fenn–hosts of UBC’s The Terry Project on CiTR. You can subscribe to The Terry Project on CiTR program on iTunes to hear more programming just like this.

[Part 1] The Four Pillars Revisited: Prevention, treatment, harm reduction, and enforcement—Vancouver’s four pillars. It’s the most progressive drug plan of any city in North America. But its authors fear that the pillars are crumbling. More >> 

[Part 2] Prevention: Do you remember DARE? It’s a drug education program, but researchers say that it doesn’t work because it exaggerates the harms of drug use. We profile people who say we need to try something new: tell kids the truth. More >> 

[Part 3] Treatment: When somebody decides that it’s time to kick drugs, who is there to help them? In this explosive expose, we explore BC’s chronically underfunded drug treatment scene. From its unregulated flop houses and questionable pharmacists to its dogmatic treatment providers. More >>

[Part 4] Harm Reduction: An activist named Ann Livingston signs a lease for a bubble tea cafe in the heart of the busiest drug market in suburban Vancouver. Ann has one goal: invite the drug users in and start a political movement. She wants The Bubble Helping Centre to be that movement’s headquarters. But how will the neighbourhood and local politicians react to their new neighbours? More >>

[Part 5] Enforcement: The authors of Vancouver drug policy always wanted to end the ‘War on Drugs’ but they made a compromise. While their fight against prohibition has stalled, Seattle is forging ahead. Will Seattle’s compromise get any closer? More >>

Click here for the rest of the series.



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Gordon Katic (@gordonkatic) has been student coordinator for the Terry Project for over two years, and in that time started BARtalk, and the Terry Project on CiTR 101.9FM. A former Ubyssey columnist, and now a student at the UBC Graduate School of Journalism, Gordon is trying to use journalism to tell important stories about global issues.