Social Medicine
Research Interests:

Substance use, injection drug use, harm reduction, drug policy, HIV/AIDS

Research Summary:

Dr. Thomas Kerr, PhD, is Director of Research with the BC Centre on Substance Use (BCCSU). He is a Professor and the Head of the Division of Social Medicine in the Department of Medicine at the University of British Columbia (UBC), as well as an Associate Faculty Member in the School of Population and Public Health at UBC.

Dr. Kerr holds a doctoral degree in counselling and health psychology, and brings over 15 years of clinical experience working with a range of populations, including people who use substances,  individuals living with mental illnesses, and people living with HIV. His primary research interests involve substance use, harm reduction, HIV/AIDS, health policy and service evaluation, and community-based research methods. His long history of involvement in healthcare issues in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside includes ground-breaking work on peer-driven interventions, needle exchanges, and supervised consumption sites. Dr. Kerr has worked closely with a number of drug user-led organizations, including the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU), the Western Aboriginal Harm Reduction Society (WAHRS), Canadian Association of People who Use Drugs (CAPUD), and the Thai Drug Users Network. He has also worked in a number of settings internationally, including in Thailand, Argentina, Australia, France, the US, Russia, Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

Dr. Kerr helps oversee several large cohort studies involving people who use drugs, among these the Vancouver Injection Drug Users Study. An important focus of Dr. Kerr’s work has been his oversight of the scientific evaluation of North Americas first medically supervised injecting facility—Insite—in Vancouver, BC. His research in this area has made significant contributions to academic, political, and public discussion, both nationally and internationally, and resulted in over 40 peer-reviewed publications focused on Insite, including those published in The Lancet, the British Medical Journal, the Canadian Medical Association Journal, and the American Journal of Public Health. His publications in this area were cited extensively by the Supreme Court of Canada in their decision to allow Insite to continue operating. Dr. Kerr has provided expert advice to Health Canada regarding supervised consumption site policy, and has contributed to SCS research and evaluation throughout Canada, as well as in France, the US, and Australia.

Dr. Kerr’s work impacts policy and practice both close to home and internationally. At home in Vancouver, his leadership in research on needle exchanges has helped inform the redesign of Vancouver Coastal Health’s needle exchange policies and programs. Abroad, his community-based research in Thailand has been cited extensively in reports by the World Bank and the Global Commission on Narcotic Drugs. Dr. Kerr has provided invited expert testimony to House of Commons and Senate committees, the United Nations, and he was an expert witness for the Missing Women’s Commission of Inquiry. He is a member of the editorial boards of the International Journal of Drug Policy and Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy, and was a commissioner for the Lancet Commission of Public Health and International Drug Policy.

Dr. Kerr has published more than 700 scientific papers in international peer-reviewed journals and has received numerous local and national awards for his contributions to public health, human rights, and the fight against HIV/AIDS. He has received the Providence Health Care, Department of Medicine, and UBC Martin M. Hoffman Award for Excellence in Research. He has also been the recipient of the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal from the Governor General of Canada, the National Knowledge Translation Award from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) for his efforts to promote scientific discussion on the topic of illicit drug policy, and was the recipient of CIHR’s inaugural Population and Public Health Research Milestones Initiative Award for his outstanding contribution to developing Canada’s research base for harm reduction and health equity approaches to HIV prevention and control. Dr. Kerr has also been the recipient of the Alfred R. Lindesmith Award for Achievement in the Field of Scholarship, which recognizes scholars whose personal courage and quality of published research constitute a source of inspiration in drug policy scholarship.

PhD – University of Victoria, Health Psychology- April 2003
Recent Publications:

Selected from 297 peer reviewed publications

  • 1. Kerr T, Palepu A. Safe injection facilities in Canada: Is it time? Canadian Medical Association Journal, 2001; 165(4), 436-437. PMCID: PMC81369.
  • 2. Kerr T, Palepu, A. Safer injection facilities for injection drug users: The debate continues. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 2002; 166(4): 424. PMCID: PMC99346.
  • 3. Kerr T, Wood E, Small D, Palepu A, Tyndall M. Potential use of safer injecting facilities among injection drug users in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 2003; 169(8): 759-763. PMCID: PMC203277.
  • 4. Kerr T, Kaplan K, Suwannawong P, Jürgens R, Wood E. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria: Funding for unpopular public-health programmes. Lancet, 2004; 364(9428): 11-12.
  • 5. Kerr T, Wodak A, Elliott R, Montaner JS, Wood E. Opioid substitution and HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention. Lancet, 2004; 364: 1918-1919.
  • 6. Kerr T, Tyndall M, Li K, Montaner JS, Wood E. Safer injection facility use and syringe sharing in injection drug users. Lancet, 2005, 366: 316-318.
  • 7. Kerr T, Stoltz J, Strathdee S, Li K, Hogg R, Montaner JS, Wood E. The impact of sex partners’ HIV status on HIV seroconversion in a prospective cohort of injection drug users. Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes, 2006; 41(1): 119-123.
  • 8. Kerr T, Small W, Peeace W, Douglas D, Pierre A, Wood E. Harm reduction by a “user-run” organization: A case study of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU). International Journal of Drug Policy, 2006; 17(2): 61-69.
  • 9. Kerr T, Stoltz J, Tyndall M, Li K, Zhang R, Montaner JS, Wood E. Impact of a medically supervised safer injection facility on community drug use patterns: A before and after study. British Medical Journal, 2006; 332: 220-222. PMCID: PMC1352057.
  • 10. Kerr T, Tyndall M, Zhang R, Montaner JS, Wood E. Circumstances of first injection among illicit drug users using a medically supervised safer injection facility. American Journal of Public Health, 2007; 97(7): 1228-30. PMCID: PMC1913080.
  • 11. Kerr T, Montaner JS, Wood E. Misrepresentation of science undermines HIV prevention. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 2008; 178(7): 964. PMCID: PMC2267848.
  • 12. Kerr T, Montaner J, Wood E. Supervised injecting facilities: time for scale up? Lancet, 2008; 372(9636): 354-355.
  • 13. Kerr T, Marshall B, Miller C, Shannon Kate, Zhang R, Montaner JS, Wood E. Injection drug use among street-involved youth in a Canadian setting. BMC Public Health, 2009; 9(1): 171. PMCID: PMC2697990.
  • 14. Kerr T, Small W, Buchner C, Zhang R, Li K, Montaner JS, Wood E. Reductions in syringe sharing and HIV incidence among injection drug users coinciding with increased access to sterile syringes. American Journal of Public Health, 2010; 100(8): 1449-1453.
  • 15. Kerr T, Montaner JS, Wood E. The science and politics of heroin prescription. Lancet, 2010; 375(9729): 1849-1850.
Awards & Recognition:
  • National Health Research & Development Doctoral Fellowship, Health Canada, 2000 – 2001
  • Graduate Student Scholarship, International Harm Reduction Association, 2001 President’s Research Award, University of Victoria, 2001
  • Graduate Scholarship, Dallas Society, 2001
  • Doctoral Fellowship, Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR), 2001 – 2002
  • New Investigator Award – Social Science Track, Canadian Association for HIV/AIDS Research , 2002
  • AccolAIDS Award (Science, Research & Technology), British Columbia Persons With AIDS Society, 2006
  • James M. Robinson Award for significant contributions to public health, University of British Columbia, 2006
  • International Journal of Drug Policy Award – Top 10 Cited Papers (2), 2006-2008
  • Scholar Award, Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research, 2006 – 2011
  • New Investigator Award, Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR), 2006 – 2011
  • President’s Award for Public Education Through Media, University of British Columbia, 2007
  • National Award for Knowledge Translation, Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR), 2007
  • Research Mission Award (Investigator), Providence Health Care, 2008
  • Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Institute of Population and Public Health, Canadian Public Health Association – Population and Public Health Research Milestones Award, 2010
  • Alfred R. Lindesmith Award for Achievement in the Field of Scholarship, Drug Policy Alliance, November 2011