Nearly 94% of defendants in Cuyahoga County drug court have been exposed to trauma and many suffer from symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to a new Case Western Reserve University study.
“These findings tell us that we need to not only treat the disease of addiction, but also the underlying mental-health issues that so often coincide with them,” said Margaret Baughman, co-author of the study and a senior research associate at the Center on Trauma and Adversity at the university’s Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences.
The researchers analyzed lifetime, childhood, and recent exposure
to trauma and PTSD symptoms for the total sample, as well as by gender. They
defined exposure to trauma as incidents that include physical violence,
life-threatening accidents, sexual assault and/or being present when someone is
PTSD symptoms manifest in many ways, including nightmares or
unwanted memories of the trauma, avoidance of situations that bring back
memories of the trauma, heightened reactions, anxiety or depression.
The study also found that:
70% of those who experienced a “serious
disaster” stated it happened before turning 18.
83% reported being sexually assaulted in their
lifetimes—75% for men and 85% for women.
44% of men in drug court who reported trading
sex for money or shelter did so before the age of 18, as opposed to 29% for
women before the age of 18.
Researchers said these findings identify a need for
increased trauma-informed care—and possibly specialized, gender-specific care.
It’s well-documented that drug courts successfully reduce rates of recidivism
for participants, they said, but a gap remains for mental-health screenings.
“We think that trauma-informed care should be a part of the
important work being done in these courts,” said co-investigator Krystel
Tossone, also a senior research associate at the Trauma Center. “We know
that if we don’t treat the underlying trauma issues, the courts are going to
see many of these people again and again.”
Adding trauma-informed social workers and peer supporters to
the court process might make sense, Tossone suggested.
“Many tend to view substance abuse and mental health in
separate silos,” Baughman said. “But from the beginning, we should be aggressively
blend treating addiction and mental-health issues.”