Teens get over-the-counter fix as ‘ice’ use falls
Binge-drinking trend a surprise in federal report
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A federal report finds crystal methamphetamine use in Hawaii is falling, but one expert says isle adolescents are finding other ways to get high.
Jeffrie Wagner, executive director of the Bobby Benson Center, said the latest rage among teenagers is abusing an over-the-counter throat lozenge that contains antihistamine.
He said teens usually steal the product off store shelves.
Keith Yamamoto, chief of the state Health Department's Alcohol and Drug Division, said marijuana is still the preferred illicit drug in Hawaii for adolescents, with alcohol second.
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Crystal methamphetamine use in Hawaii is continuing to decline after reaching a peak in 2005, said Keith Yamamoto, chief of the state Health Department's Alcohol and Drug Division.
Marijuana is still the preferred illicit drug in Hawaii for adolescents, with alcohol running second, he said.
Jeffrie Wagner, executive director of the Bobby Benson Center for adolescents, agreed that there has been a decline in the use of crystal meth, but he noted, "When the law cracks down on one drug, the drug users just switch to another."
He said his center has seen an increase in cocaine and prescription drug use and the new trend among adolescents of abusing over-the-counter throat lozenges containing antihistamines.
"It gives them a high. They usually steal them off shelves," he said.
Yamamoto said he was not surprised by some of the findings in a report released Thursday by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration on illicit drug use and alcohol around the country.
For instance, of 14,000 12- to 17-year-olds surveyed, 14.3 percent reported using marijuana in the past year. Of 35,000 18- to 25-year-olds surveyed, 28.4 percent reported using marijuana in the past year.
But Yamamoto said he was a little surprised at the rate of binge drinking reported for Hawaii among 12- to 17-year-olds, because that has not surfaced as a top issue here.
Someone who has five or more alcoholic drinks at the same time, within a couple of hours, or on at least one day within the past 30 days is considered a binge drinker.
Hawaii was in a group of 10 states with the second-lowest percentage -- 20.7 percent to 21.8 percent -- of 12- to 17-year-olds reporting binge alcohol use in the past month.
"I'm surprised it was even that high," Yamamoto said, adding that his division will be looking into the issue.
Admissions in methamphetamine treatment programs for Hawaii adults and adolescents in 2002 totaled 2,888, he said. The figure rose to 3,163 in 2003, went up again to 3,265 in 2004 and peaked in 2005 at 3,658, which meshed with the national report, he said.
In 2006 the number of Hawaii residents getting treatment for "ice" dropped to 3,469, and it slid to 3,323 last year, continuing the downward trend, Yamamoto said.
He said he is pleased Hawaii was included in the national survey, because national studies often exclude Hawaii and comparisons with other states are helpful.
But he said the SAMHSA study has limitations.
Some of the sampling sizes for data were "quite small," he said. "So we, as a state, always have to make sure we put resources and do our own surveys with a little more robust data" that can be used at the county level and in communities, he said.
More organizations are needed to provide substance abuse treatment, particularly residential adolescent treatment, Yamamoto said. Maui Youth and Family Services had a program but closed it, leaving the Bobby Benson Center the only residential substance abuse treatment center for adolescents in the state, he said.
Wagner said the center has a capacity of 28, with 12 beds for females and 16 for males from ages 13 to 17.
He said a few clients have run away, usually to get the lozenges with antihistamine. Although it might sound harmless, he said, "A couple ended up in psychiatric wards or the emergency room with overdoses. They go into convulsions.
"You can abuse anything," Wagner said. "We can't take everything and lock it up. They're really smart, really resilient and looking for ways to get loaded."
He recalled when sniffing "aerosol sprays from under the sink" was popular with juveniles and in the 1960s and '70s, he said.
"There are just so many things so harmful to these kids, and they have no idea. Some kid tells them, 'If you use this, it will get you high.'
"We do have successes," he said. "A lot of it is up to the youths themselves, whether they want it or not. We give them all the education and information, the good, bad and ugly. It's kind of up to them."