I just returned from the biggest conference of my career. 25 years of Drug Court Programs. Believe it or not, we are all celebrating 25 years of Drug Court Programs. Some readers might not– even after 25 years—even know what a Drug Court means. I certainly have to explain this concept to many of my Midwestern family. The wave of the judicial future is Accountability Court Programs. Cherokee County got on board with this wave of the future 9 years ago when the Cherokee County DUI/Drug Court was initiated. Since that time, two other accountability court programs have been developed in our county alone, The Misdemeanor Drug Court Program and The Felony Drug Court program.

Several members of the Cherokee County DUI/Drug court team have just returned from the 25th annual convention of such drug courts, with a mere 6-8000 others. It is actually quite an interesting conference. One is able to meet other therapists like myself from Wisconsin, Maine, Montana and more!! Programs are done differently across the country. Each program has 10 best practices that we adhere to, but the thousands of programs are as different a high heel or a rain boot. So, during the sessions, or while trapped in a shuttle or even in an elevator, we are able to compare notes about what works and what doesn’t work.

This was my ninth national conference. One of the major themes this year was HEROIN. One could be in a workshop, in the ladies room or in the hot tub and someone would ask “You guys seeing much Heroin?’ I never heard many “no” answers. Clients have either hopscotched over from pain pills, which very quickly get out of control financially, to HEROIN which is much cheaper. Or they start with Heroin first use. Of course, you have that pesky title of being a junkie, when you shoot Heroin. I learned that the Heroin in the 1970s was only 1 percent pure, so people had to shoot it. You couldn’t get a high if you snorted that Heroin. In 2014, Heroin is 8 times as potent, so you can snort it or shoot it or perhaps use Heroin in other more creative, more deadly ways. In this county alone, we are seeing a drastic increase in accidental Heroin overdoses. In fact, there was one while the team was in California.

Another theme of this conference was synthetic drugs. Synthetic drugs are manufactured to resemble illegal drugs. The brain is tricked into the high, but the person could buy the drug at a specialty shop and possibly pass a standard drug screen. Alas, there are some drawbacks. Researchers outlined the newest ones for use, including “spice”, “bath salts”, “crocodile”, “smiles” and “robo tripping”. The concern is that these designer drug cooks change their recipe as soon as one becomes illegal, so they are constantly changing. Next, several states have had deadly overdoses, homicides and suicides associated with designer drugs. Side effects include psychosis, paranoia and extreme anxiety.

The latest research indicates that the frontal lobe of the brain is not developed by age 21 as we were taught last year, but by age 25. So, the decision making brain cells are still “goo” when kids are in high school and college. Then, throw some marijuana and booze on top of that brain!

Last, a great deal of emphasis was placed on trauma and recovery. Some people use substances just for fun, but more research is focusing on abusers that experience a horrible trauma and may be inclined to turn to substance abuse for help. These could be people who’s lives were functional and started abusing only after experiencing the traumatic incident. I feel that through my professional experience, adults who have had at least one unresolved trauma as a child are more likely to have difficulty in resolving adult trauma. There seems to be a tow rope attaching the two. Examples given frequently were soldiers returning from combat duty drinking or using drugs as a band aid of sorts.

There were a hundred workshops or so over the three day conference. Tracts for prosecutors, counselors, judges and police officers were specialized. Once again, the four day conference was a huge learning event for this counselor. I have already used topics I learned last Friday in group settings this week. You can never break the chain!