Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Ice storm: Epidemic of the Islands

Participants in the Ho'omau Ke Ola rehab program gather at dawn at Pokai Bay for hiuwai, a spiritual cleansing that can be done only between dusk and dawn.

A spiritual cleansing

A Waianae program
uses Hawaiian culture
to treat drug addicts

Just before sunrise at Pokai Bay, about 30 graduates of the Ho'omau Ke Ola drug treatment program sit in a circle in the sand and chant in Hawaiian.

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"I ka hikina (to the east),

"Aia ka la (there is sun),

"Eala e (arise)."

With a new day beginning, they meditated on things they wanted to change in their lives, then ran into the ocean wearing ti-leaf leis.

As they dipped themselves in the cold, clear water, their leis, symbolic of their drug addiction, came off their necks.

The ceremony earlier this summer marked the completion of the treatment program at Ho'omau Ke Ola, which means "to perpetuate life as it was meant to be." The Waianae-based program offers residential and outpatient drug treatment that incorporates native Hawaiian culture into the traditional drug treatment, including a 12-step recovery program.

While the program is open to all ethnicities, its focus on Hawaiian culture is key. According to state Department of Health statistics for 2002, people of native Hawaiian ancestry made up 49.5 percent of the adults and 50.6 percent of the adolescents who sought treatment for addiction to "ice," or crystal methamphetamine, at community-based programs that receive some state funding.

Ice was the primary drug for about 76 percent of the patients at Ho'omau Ke Ola last year.

Besides counseling, support groups and classes on addiction, Ho'omau Ke Ola patients learn Hawaiian culture and work in a loi, or taro patch, at Kaala Farm in the back of Waianae Valley.

The stone walls that make up the loi date to ancient Hawaii, when water from Mount Kaala fed acres of taro and flowed into the ocean.

A graduation ceremony held at the loi at Kaala Farms in Waianae included residential client Angie, below left, and program cultural coordinator Momi Cruz-Losano, who shared ha, or the breath of life, which is culturally considered the highest form of respect.

From the back of the valley, the whole ahupuaa can be seen, from the blue waters of Pokai Bay to the steep valley walls that separate Waianae from Wahiawa.

"When I first came here, I didn't see any of this," said Jaylene Kanewehi, who was 28 days into the residential treatment program.

She said she did not see the beauty of the valley nor understand why they had to work in the taro patch.

"I thought, 'How is this going to help me in recovery?'"

But as she looked around, Kanewehi, 35, said she started to cry.

"I didn't know why I was crying," she said. Later she realized she felt the spiritual power of the valley. "You feel the mana," she said. "I felt but I couldn't see."

Kanewehi said she was 19 and had just had her first child when she first tried ice to lose weight.

"A sista said, 'You want to try it?' and like a dummy I did," Kanewehi said as she helped harvest dry-land taro.

Kanewehi and other members of the residential treatment program pull the taro from the ground, cut the top off and separate the edible and rubbish leaves from the plant.

In another section of the farm, some of the men dig up pohaku, or stones, to prepare the land for planting.

Participants of the Ho'omau Ke Ola rehab program had their graduation ceremony at Kaala Farm in Waianae. After the ceremony, everyone stood and sang "Hawaii Aloha," including residential clients Ganon, left, Keola, Hanalei and John.

For the newly sober patients, there is a joy in working. It is as if they are rediscovering life.

"They keep me busy at all times that my mind is off of drugs," said Dean Shirinski, 39. "I'm keeping myself busy and clean and sober."

About 133 clients went through Ho'omau Ke Ola last year. There are 14 residential beds and about 30 outpatient slots. The program recently got funding to offer day treatment for about 30 more patients.

The program has a good success rate, said "Aunty" Momi Cruz-Losano, the kumu, or teacher, at Ho'omau Ke Ola. But it's not easy to stay sober.

About 60 percent of the people who entered the program last year dropped out before graduation. Roughly 28 percent of the 133 patients last year were able to stay away from drugs and alcohol for at least six months after completion of the program.

"Some will come back and be successful the second time around," Cruz-Losano said.

As she walks up the path past the ancient taro patches at Kaala Farm, Cruz-Losano is reminded of how seductive ice can be.

An infant on a picnic cloth is being cared for by two farm staffers.

Cruz-Losano picks up the baby and the infant smiles.

"The baby's mother was in treatment," Cruz-Losano said. "Now she's back on the beach doing drugs."

Before entering the hale where the graduation ceremony was to be held, graduates greeted staff members. Robert hugged Sandy Alfapada, a counselor for Ho'omau Ke Ola. Waiting behind were Jonathan, left, Sherman and another Robert.

For those who stay in treatment, each day brings small victories over addiction.

The day before working at the farm, Kanewehi was let out of the residential facility to go to a doctor's appointment. As she waited for a ride back to the residential facility, she saw a pay phone and realized she could call her family and walk away from Ho'omau Ke Ola.

Kanewehi said she sat on a bench and began singing hymns to herself to keep herself strong.

"I had the opening. I could have done it but that's the addict behavior," she said. "I learned what they call the turning point in my life."

Alvin Adric, who is in the outpatient program at Ho'omau Ke Ola, said he smoked ice for 15 years before trying to get help.

"I was thinking of not living anymore," he said. "I never thought that it was going to be possible. I always thought that I was going to use drugs."

Now he is living in a sober house with other recovering addicts and trying to stay away from people and behavior that will lead back to drugs.

In treatment, Adric said he was taught about triggers -- behaviors and places -- that can bring back the feeling of wanting to do drugs.

Ho'omau Ke Ola residential clients perform a hula they learned in the program.

"There are certain places I go, I can feel my stomach turning," he said, especially places in Wahiawa where he used to live and smoke ice.

"I recognize that I gotta get out of there," he said. Adric said when he gets the urge to do drugs, he is able to call sober friends for help.

Adric said he is thinking of going back to school to become a nurse.

In the morning before the outpatient culture class begins, the patients, who come from all over the island, ask permission in Hawaiian to enter.

The patients are not all native Hawaiian. Cruz-Losano said she helps patients rediscover positive cultural values no matter what their ethnicity.

The class has gone to bon dances. She also brought in West African dancers for patients who were African American and Hawaiian.

No matter what their background, the Hawaiian values they learn can help them overcome addiction, Cruz-Losano said.

Graduates share thoughts about their recovery as they take three scoops of sand from one bowl and place it in another in a ceremony called hoolauna. After all the graduates are done, the mixed sand is wrapped in puolo for each person to take with them as a keepsake.

The activities in the program are designed to help the patients rediscover the joy of being sober.

There are four components to the program: Ho'oponopono, resolving past conflicts and healing; Pono, finding balance in the individual; Aloha Aina, reconnecting and learning values and responsibilities to the land and family; and Deep Culture Therapy, which uses Hawaiian legends and myths to help the patients learn about themselves and their addiction.

Hawaiian values such as laulima (many hands working together) and lokahi (unity) are also taught.

During the class, the patients learn a hula they will perform at graduation and a chant that they can use to keep their mind strong and off drugs.

"He mu 'oia (defend us)," they shout together.

"He mu na moe ino ino (defend us from nightmares),

"Na moe moe a na pu nohunohu, na haumia (from things in the night and ill omens) ...

"Noa Ia'e (free us), Noa ka honua (The earth is free)."


"Ice" was the common bond for victim and killer in one of Hawaii's recent violent crimes. Also, how the courts are coping with the heavy volume of crystal meth offenders.


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