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How common is drug use among participants in drug court?


Brooklyn focus group participants had mixed views about how often drug use occurs:

  • About one-third use.

  • A lot of them.

  • Hardly any.

  • You could count them on one hand.

Las Vegas

When asked about the level of drug use among program participants, Las Vegas focus group members said they were uncertain, but estimated that about 40 to 50 percent of drug court participants still used. They also believed that continued drug use was more common among people in the early stages of the program and considerably less frequent among people reaching the later stages. One participant stated that some drug court clients drank alcohol as a substitute for drug use. However, all Las Vegas focus group participants seemed to agree strongly that drug use was much lower among participants than it would have been if they were not in the drug court program.

The participants seemed hopeful when discussing the prospects of drug court participants after graduating from the drug court. They believed that, in general, defendants who complete the program have made a personal commitment to change their lives:

  • It’s a new way of life; for some people it’s a new life.

  • Some things you’re doing you’ve got to carry with you, you know, keep from going back.

  • I know . . . after being in prison for a year, the first thing I did was drugs and I’m not promising anything, but I don’t think I’ll be doing it this time when I get done with this.

For one Las Vegas participant, success after drug court depended a lot on the individual:

  • It all depends on the individual person because some people, they just want to get out so they can go and do their drugs again. Other people, it’s like they really change their life through the program and realize that they had a problem and they don’t want to go back to that because their whole life has changed for the better. So it just depends on the individual people.


Miami participants were noticeably reluctant to venture opinions about the level of drug use and crime by people in the drug court program, stating that, in general, they had no idea how many other clients were doing drugs while in the program. One person guessed that about 25 percent of participants were still abusing drugs. Two focus group participants suggested that no one was doing drugs while in the drug court program.

  • I wouldn’t know. . . .

  • It’s hard to say. . . .

  • Obviously two because they went to jail. This is obvious. . . .

  • I don’t know. . . .

  • I know three guys. . . . I know they doin’ it ’cause every time you turn around they in jail and when they get outta jail they start again. . . . I know what they talking about.

  • I’d say about 25 percent. . . .

  • I say 0 percent ’cause the group I’m in . . . Monday, Wednesday, and Fridays . . . everybody’s on time.

  • Everybody . . . everybody’s doing it.

San Bernardino

San Bernardino focus group participants had little to say on the subject:

  • Nobody in the program.

  • The ones that are doing, they relapse and they get caught.

[General unwillingness to talk much more about it.]


Several Seattle participants expressed the opinion that their peers turned from drug use to alcohol:

  • 50 percent are doing drugs.

  • I don’t agree with that. You can’t get away with it.

  • Probably a little less than 50 percent. But these are people asking me if I’m clean if they could buy some pee off me.

  • I’d say about one-fourth or one-eighth. A lot of heroin addicts are drinking ’cause it doesn’t show up on the UAs.

  • I think a lot of people are trading in their addiction for alcoholism.

Back to Participant Drug Use

An Honest Chance: Perspectives on Drug Courts April 2002