Local expert provides heightened substance-abuse training for Moffat County Sheriff’s Office
Officers with the Moffat County Sheriff’s Office received training from a local expert this week on mental health, substance abuse and some of the dangers associated with higher-potency THC products now available recreationally.
Ben Cort, interim chief executive officer of the Foundry Treatment Center in Steamboat Springs, presented to the sheriff’s office patrol staff on topics for which he has both professional and personal experience.
“As someone who has lived experience and education in addiction, alcoholism and mental health issues, I want to help humanize it,” Cort said.
Cort said a bias regarding addiction often exists among law enforcement officers because they may only see people with drug or alcohol problems when they offend and “never get to see their miracle.”
In many cases, law enforcement ends up being the first-responders, but the officers’ training is not always based in mental health. The important thing about Cort’s training is that it brings a mental health focus, as well as educational credits for the department’s required training.
“I want to show them that some of us make it out the other side and are able to contribute,” Cort said. “I am really hoping to help change the perspective to see that the issues are often related to the addiction, and not criminal mentality.”
Lt. Chip McIntyre said the sheriff‘s office does undergo mental health training. The department participates in a critical-incident training once or twice per year where paid actors simulate crisis situations that officers have to respond to. McIntyre said it’s pretty intense training and state-mandated for officers to maintain their credentials.
“It helps any time we can bring people in and help humanize the issue,” McIntyre said. “And (it helps) bring that reality to our patrol staff that these are people who are suffering not only from addiction, but also mental health issues that have caused addiction — and they are people who need help.”
It also helps to bring in local professionals who are working in treatment and recovery and put a face on those programs when officers need to refer people for additional help or substance-abuse treatment.
THC related psychosis
Over the years, Cort has been an outspoken advocate for recovery in national discussions around marijuana. He is the author of “Weed Inc” and has been featured in a TedXMileHigh segment speaking on the topic.
“Let me be perfectly clear about one thing, my fight is not against the casual adult use of marijuana; I don’t care about that,” Cort said to open the TEDx talk, which now has over 2 million views.
Cort goes on to say that he cares deeply about the new cannabis industry and how it promotes use and portrays products as natural, when in reality the products on the market now are so much stronger that they relate less to the original plant and have a different effect on the user.
“About a decade ago, a lot of weird things started happening with rates of addiction,” Cort said over the phone. “About the same time, we started to get diagnostic evidence about the physical addictions to THC.”
Cort explained that there is now enough data to show marijuana is mentally and physically addictive, which for a long time was believed to be untrue.
“It’s no different than cigarette companies saying that nicotine was not addictive,” Cort said.
Marijuana has always been a vasodilator, meaning consumption increases blood flow and lowers blood pressure. But now higher potency products are functioning as vasoconstrictor, decreasing blood flow and raising blood pressure.
For law enforcement, this is important to know because a person who’s high on a THC concentrate could appear to exhibit symptoms of amphetamine use. Cort said it could be easy for law enforcement to miss the signs or not know the right questions to ask in those situations.
“Until Ben’s presentation, I don’t know if patrols really understood what the (THC) issue is because they are so used to seeing amphetamines,” McIntyre said.
National expertise in Craig’s backyard
Since getting sober in 1996, Cort has been a part of the recovery movement as a recipient, provider and spokesperson. In 2007, he left his position as human resources director for a large publicly traded company in Denver to help start the Colorado-based nonprofit Phoenix Multisport.
Now known as The Phoenix, the nonprofit works to build sober communities around the country through sports and healthy activities. Cort was an original board member and the first full-time employee for The Phoenix, which has gotten national recognition for its approach to supporting recovery communities.
For five years, Cort ran the marketing, development and admissions department for the University of Colorado’s substance abuse treatment services, and he’s since gone on to become a consultant for numerous agencies.
In 2019, Cort moved from a consulting role with the Foundry Treatment Center to the interim CEO position, and he said it’s time for him to bring his knowledge to the communities in his backyard.
Usually, Cort speaks about substance abuse and recovery in communities across the country, but his presentation with the sheriff’s office was the first time he’s had the chance to do it in Moffat County. According to Cort, the Foundry has many employees and serves clients from Moffat County.
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