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Research: Majority of People in Nashua Drug Court Have Suffered Childhood Trauma

Dan Tuohy / NHPR

New research from the drug court program in Nashua shows a majority of people in the program have suffered from a significant number of childhood traumas.


Studies have previously shown that Adverse Childhood Experiences or ACEs can predispose people for a whole host of negative outcomes later in life -- from anxiety and depression to cancer and diabetes.


Researchers can give individuals an ACE score based on yes or no answers to 10 questions. ACE scores of 4 or higher are most closely associated with negative health outcomes.


Christina Minasian-Hunt, a psychologist with Greater Nashua Mental Health, which provides services for the Nashua drug court, surveyed people currently in the program to get their ACE scores and found a striking result.


“On average, 12.5% of the population have a score of four or more. We're finding in our research that people coming into our program is more around 75%,” said Minasian-Hunt.



"It may mean that they have some neuro-developmental delays that happened as an effect of the (Adverse Childhood Experiences)."

Minasian-Hunt said she expected to find higher than average ACE scores in the drug court program, since substance misuse disorder is among the negative health outcomes associated with ACEs.


But she believes this study is the first of its kind - confirming that the correlation between ACEs and substance misuse disorder is reflected in people who are participating in drug courts.


“This is kind of an obvious thing and yet it hasn't really been talked about at the national level for drug courts.”


Minasian-Hunt hopes that drug courts around the country will respond to this finding by adjusting the services they offer to better address ACEs.


She also says gathering ACE scores for drug court participants could help give drug court administrators a more holistic view of participants in the program.


“If somebody is really struggling, it may be because of these ACEs. Not just because they are willful or don’t want to do something,” says Minasian-Hunt. “It may mean that they have some neuro-developmental delays that happened as an effect of the ACEs.”


Minasian-Hunt is planning a second phase of the study to determine whether ACE scores correlate with success rates in drug court programs.

Jason Moon is a senior reporter and producer on the Document team. He has created longform narrative podcast series on topics ranging from unsolved murders, to presidential elections, to secret lists of police officers.
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