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What drugs were you using at the time of your arrest and how long have you used drugs?


Brooklyn Treatment Court participants spoke of a full range of types of substance abuse:

  • My drug of choice was crack cocaine.

  • My drug of choice was heroin. I sold it, I used it, I smoked crack, I stole. . . .

  • My drug of choice was crack cocaine.

  • I was smoking crack, coke—I had such an addiction. . . .

  • My choice of drug was marijuana and crack.

  • My drug of choice was alcohol and marijuana.

When participants in the Brooklyn groups were asked how long they had been using drugs, answers ranged from 10 to more than 25 years.

Las Vegas

Among participants in the Las Vegas focus groups, methamphetamine was the most commonly mentioned drug of choice. Marijuana and cocaine together were also mentioned as principal substances of abuse; several participants reported crack cocaine to be their principal drug of abuse. Another Las Vegas participant claimed that she had been addicted to prescription pain medication:

  • I had cancer and got addicted to prescription medication. . . . In fact, I thought I was smart, called in my own prescriptions, and I got caught.

Only one person in one of the focus groups mentioned alcohol as a principal substance of abuse. Once this person brought up the topic of alcohol, other participants readily reported frequent alcohol use as a complement to their preferred drugs of abuse:

  • I think alcohol’s the reason I started doing cocaine, because I’d get so drunk that I wanted something to pick me up, and like it went hand in hand. They went together.

  • It’s been involved but it’s not like a major problem. . . . Without the drugs it’s just alcohol. . . .

Others described alcohol as a problem because it either led them to want to abuse other drugs or because it accompanied use of their preferred drugs of abuse. One Las Vegas participant thought he had been miscast in treatment because he was a dealer of drugs and, in his view, did not abuse them. He merely drank. This view of substance abuse changed for him while in the drug court:

  • I used to drink a lot so it really did help, you know, ’cause I used to drink every day. . . .
    That’s when it started to dawn on me that I had that problem with alcohol.


In Miami, many of the participants had been abusing cocaine either as powder or crack:

  • Cocaine’s my drug.

  • Oh, I’m in for possession of cocaine and marijuana.

  • I’m an addict. I’ve been using for maybe going on 11 years. Stayed clean the longest for 5 years. Recently lost my job. Went back and got high again. Crack cocaine.

  • I was born and raised in Miami, south of Miami, and just moved back to Miami from South Carolina and I was doing every drug—you name it—’cept for heroin.

  • I’m happiest when I’m high on cocaine and I been a user for about 9 years.

  • I was a county employee for 17 years, a secretary for the county for 17 years, and I use powder cocaine. I’ve been using cocaine for about 15 years.

  • My thing was snorting cocaine, and I’m an alcoholic. . . . I started using because I was in an escort service, which is prostitution, because I had no other way of surviving and supporting my children. . . . And for me to do the coke and drink, I couldn’t see these men without being high.

Some Miami participants talked about the role of alcohol:

  • You start with alcohol, then go to drugs, then to cocaine. . . .

  • Alcohol’s a trigger, so I don’t use alcohol.

  • Oh, alcohol’s a problem. . . . I drink, I get so high. So call me dumb, I drink.

  • I black out with alcohol.

  • If I drink right now, I’m done. If I drink a bottle right now, I’m gonna need a hit to straighten me out. I’m done.

  • I’m in the program and I use alcohol every night.


Among Portland participants, cocaine and crack cocaine were described as the principal drugs of abuse, although one participant reported regular heroin use and two reported regular use of methamphetamines:

  • Well, I’m 48 years old and I’ve been using drugs all my life. . . .

  • My drug problem was cocaine. I was a smoker; I free-based. . . . For a brief moment I had a $500-a-day habit.

  • My drug of choice was alcohol. I was there for possession of cocaine.

  • My drug of choice was crack . . . every day, all day, every day, all day.

  • I got arrested for possession of heroin. I was using $10 to $20, three to four times a week.

  • My drug of choice was speedballs.

  • My drug was pot. I did meth every now and then, but pot was my big daily thing.

In Portland, many participants reported regular use (meaning many times a day) of cocaine or crack, which they always combined with alcohol consumption. Portland participants did not have to be prompted to talk about alcohol as a drug likely to be abused, and those who felt that it was a problem for them freely mentioned it either as an important part of their addiction problem or as one of their other “drugs of choice.”

  • I drank pretty much daily and I binged.

San Bernardino

In the San Bernardino focus groups, cocaine and methamphetamine appeared to be the most common drugs of choice:

  • I’m here for cocaine.

  • My drug of choice was speed, and I’ve been a user for about 14 years.

  • My drug of choice was speed, and I used for about 16 years.

  • My drug of choice was coke, and I’ve been using off and on for 6 years.

  • Cocaine. . . . I’ve had this problem ongoing for about 23 years.

  • My drug of choice was speed.

  • My drug that I loved was speed. . . . [I was involved with it] about 12 years.

  • My drug of choice was cocaine . . . and I been using off and on for 15 years.

  • My drug of choice was marijuana and alcohol. . . . I’ve been using for about 3 years.


In Seattle, the drug court population seemed predominantly heroin-involved:

  • Heroin. Twelve years.

  • I started to do drugs of all kinds from the time I was 13 years old and started using heroin at about 27–28 years old. Heroin’s what got me here.

  • I’ve been doing drugs for about 25 years. Heroin mostly.

  • I’ve been using for about 20 years. My drug of choice is heroin with cocaine.

  • I’ve been using drugs for 23 years.

  • I’ve been involved with drugs for the past 35 years. My drug of choice is heroin.

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An Honest Chance: Perspectives on Drug Courts April 2002