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What are the strengths (“best parts”) of the drug court treatment program?


Brooklyn participants pointed to several positive features of the treatment experience, including the structure it provided, its educational aspect, positive social interaction and support, and the rediscovery of self-esteem:

  • The structure.

  • Education. . . . It made me aware of what drugs is doing to your body.

  • For me it was the social outings with my peers . . . that we could all get together and have fun without getting high.

  • The best part? My peers. I met a good group of people.

  • Just bein’ clean ain’t gonna do you no good if you ain’t got someplace to go . . . ’cause we all got problems. Problems do arise, clean or messed up. Using your group helps out a lot. They give you their direction, they give you that support you need.

  • I think it was getting my self-esteem back.

Las Vegas

In the Las Vegas focus groups, participants who were serious about overcoming drug problems seemed to find the treatment program very helpful. Several participants stated that graduation was the best part of the program, both their own graduation and those of people they know. They felt inspired and motivated by successful graduations:

  • I’d say getting out of Phase I and graduation. . . .

  • Yeah, I mean it’s kind of a motivational thing. Or seeing somebody that you know, that you’ve known before you got into the program or even when you first got in, you know you both were doing the same drugs, a lot of the same drugs, and seeing that person just totally change lives. . . . It’s like, you know, if he or she can do that, then I know I can.

Another participant stated that just listening to other people’s problems was very helpful because it provided a perspective that would otherwise not be available. Other parts of the treatment program that people liked best included the group counseling sessions, acupuncture (“needling”), and relationships with specific treatment counselors. Some participants also mentioned Phase II of the treatment process (the phase following detoxification) as a very useful part of treatment because of its structure and the information it provided:

  • Phase I groups I think are kind of a waste . . . but when you get into Phase II groups, that’s when it starts to make more sense and it starts being more helpful, starts to make you understand if you do have a problem that you do need help with it, and there are people who will help you.

  • Phase II is a good program because it’s structured and you have a book and you learn a lot about yourself, dependency and codependency and everything. . . . It’s got a lot of useful information.

Discussion among Las Vegas participants on this topic turned quickly to group counseling sessions, with a variety of views. Groups were seen by participants as useful opportunities to “get things off one’s chest” and to get other people’s opinions and feedback:

  • I like groups. . . . That’s helping me a lot. . . .

  • I think the groups suck. They don’t help me at all. There’s one counselor . . . he talks about smoking blunts and getting high on drugs and partying . . . and to me, that just makes me want to go out and get high, you know. And then you have another counselor that’s just into her spiritual aura. I mean, I like her. The counselors are very nice people but the groups, for me, just don’t do me any good.

  • I think the group’s real cool. I like listening to . . . people’s stories. It helps you to relate. I think that’s what the biggest part about it is, hearing everybody talk and letting yourself talk and express yourself, especially when . . . you’re not doing what you’re supposed to and here you’re in a room with a whole bunch of people who are, who have been where you are but are now clean. It makes you like envy them. It makes you see, “Whoa, you know, I should be there, maybe I can do this.”

  • The groups are okay. Some days they’re good and some days they’re bad, you know. Just some days, everything, I mean you really get into it, and then some days, you know, you look at your clock and can’t wait to get out of there. . . .

Some participants had different expectations of what the treatment process would be and were not so satisfied with their experiences:

  • I don’t know. I haven’t seen any treatment going on here, to tell you the truth. . . .

  • The counselor really talks the majority of it and really doesn’t have anything that’s really helpful to you, you know, that deals with you yourself and what problems you’re having . . . and then you go and sit in there for a half-hour where they stick needles in your ear.

For one participant, the most useful part of the treatment regimen was its more general effect; she was able to stop her substance abuse and her life began to improve:

  • I think the best part about the classes and all that is that when you really start to get serious about it and you are clean for a while and you start noticing differences in your own life. . . . ’Cause I know I felt really good about myself once I was clean. I was clean for a good 6 months or more and I’m seeing how my life went from, you know, doing drugs all the time, trying to get by, to actually wanting to stay off drugs and working and having a place and paying my bills and feeling real good about myself.


There was a general consensus among the participants in the Miami focus groups that “group” was a very helpful part of the treatment process:

  • The most positive? Group.

  • Being able to talk out. Being able to talk about your situation . . . some people don’t know what an addict is.

  • Being able to talk about your problems, meeting people with similar problems, learning about your problem, and having a good relationship with the counselor were also mentioned as being the best parts of the treatment experience.

San Bernardino

San Bernardino participants noted several positive features:

  • When you have a problem, when you’re just going through stuff, you just come and talk to the group and you leave it all here, and when you go home you feel a lot better. You relieve the pain and stuff.

  • Learning how to deal with your problems.

  • Being healthy.


Seattle participants made comments similar to those in the other sites. However, they also discussed a special feature of the Seattle drug court program, adapted from the Portland model, which permitted a 2-week trial period in treatment before the decision to participate was final. (This was designed for legal reasons, not for treatment reasons, to permit immediate treatment but protect the defendant’s right to trial in the event that counsel found grounds to pursue normal adjudication.)

  • Make a decision in 2 weeks. . . . Well, my mind was already made up, but then everybody else was at me saying, “You’re crazy.” That it’s just a trap and all that.

  • They give you 2 weeks. Like she said, my mind was made up on the first day. I’m facing 4 years for possession and you don’t need 2 weeks to think about it.

  • I thought it was good because it gave me a chance to weigh my options, see which way I really wanted to go.

  • Lots of people choose not to say. . . . There is a lot of people that take the jail time instead of the drug court.

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An Honest Chance: Perspectives on Drug Courts April 2002