First responders have to be prepared to interact with and deal with such a variety of individuals and situations, but one of the most unpredictable is engaging with those under the influence of drugs. These incidents can range from frustrating to deadly — often changing rapidly.
- what drugs affect the brain,
- how this creates a different kind of behavior in which verbal communication is less effective and a propensity toward violence is increased.
- Finally, guidelines for safely approaching, interviewing, and arresting drug abusers will be covered.
Justice Clearinghouse Editors (JCH): Our audience has seen a number of your mental health webinars. Share with us how you got interested in this topic area.
Amy Morgan: Since about junior high age, I wanted to grow up and be a psychologist – there was just something about being able to help people work through life’s difficulties that really called to me. As I started into the field and began counseling, I quickly realized that I had a pretty idyllic view of what it’s like to actually try to help people create change in their own lives, and I didn’t feel like I was making enough of a difference. When I changed my course a bit and took my counseling education towards “training,” I realized it’s the same in many ways – all of it is teaching people how to look at themselves, change what isn’t working, learn new skills and habits, and look for more intense help with the bigger challenges. Being able to do this in the justice & law enforcement discipline really brings me a sense that I may actually be providing that hope and positive change that I wanted to from the beginning.
Once a drug is introduced into someone’s body and brain,
that person is no longer in full control of their decisions.
JCH: What do you think the biggest myths justice professionals might have about drug users?
Amy: I think, often, most people assume that drug users choose to be in the bad situations that they are in, and so we tend to look at them with no compassion, because of the thought that they could just stop doing drugs and make their lives better. Most people got to a point of drug abuse, and possibly crime, gradually, and once a drug is introduced into someone’s body and brain, that person is no longer in full control of their decisions. I’m not, of course, dismissing blame for crimes committed while under the influence – all strings of bad choices start with one bad choice. I am saying, to understand a person, or help a person, you can’t just look at who they are the day you meet them. But…the brain on drugs can make a person function in ways they wouldn’t otherwise, or exaggerate functions — causing someone to be dangerous, violent, unpredictable, etc. Most times you’ll see there are 2 completely different people inside a drug user, but the drug typically wins when it comes to behavior.
Justice Clearinghouse reaches an audience
that I really care about helping
…Helping people who help others is the best of all.
JCH: When a first responder is encountering someone who they believe might be on drugs, what is perhaps the most important things for them to keep in mind?
Amy: Back to the unpredictability and the effects that drugs can have on one’s brain… when a first responder is interacting with a drug user, it’s important to remember that logic, reason, and all things you would use with a non-drug-user may not work. The brain is affected by the drugs, and the affected brain is controlling this person’s behavior. So even if you know a person and know they aren’t a violent person, if you put drugs in their system, they could become violent and appear to be a completely different person than the one you know. So, safety is the first thing to always keep in mind. And, as this webinar will teach, knowing what different drugs to do the brain and the behavior, can really be helpful — knowledge and awareness are good tools to take with you.
JCH: You’ve been a long time presenter here at Justice Clearinghouse. What keeps you coming back again and again to share your knowledge?
Amy: I really love teaching and educating about mental health issues, and the Justice Clearinghouse reaches an audience that I really care about helping. I always prefer to help people who also want to help themselves, but.. helping people who help others is the best of all.