Bernie Pauly and fellow School of Nursing researcher Joan MacNeil were reviewing AIDS Vancouver Island practices in 2008 when AVI’s 20-year-old needle exchange was evicted, replaced by a mobile service.
Their research took on a whole new direction.
“I approached Bernie and said, this is a research opportunity. We need to document what happens when a needle exchange of this size closes,” says AVI communications coordinator Andrea Langlois, BA ’01. The site on Cormorant St. had a higher volume of clients than sites in cities three times Victoria’s size, like Edmonton or Ottawa.
In a collaborative research project with AVI, Pauly and MacNeil interview 33 people who used needle exchange services on Vancouver Island to find out how access to exchange services could be improved.
The resulting report drew national media attention. University research “illustrating some of what, anecdotally, we could articulate as having seen on the street” had a major impact on AVI’s ability to communicate what they saw happening after the exchange closed, Langlois says.
“It brought forward the fact that closing the exchange meant less access, not just to needle exchange services, but it meant less access to health and social services,” Pauly says.
The needle exchange was a gateway to other services. And the study also revealed that the rates of reusing needles or unsafely disposing of them rose dramatically.
“Bernie and I have done presentations about it,” Langlois says. “It was like the ground kind of shifted in the middle of their research.”
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