Hawaii must persevere with its steady progress against drugs
Families throughout Hawaii were consumed with bad news about crystal methamphetamine, or "ice," when the Lingle-Aiona administration first took office in 2002. Since then, Lt. Gov. James R. "Duke" Aiona Jr. has made drug control a state priority and led the state's efforts to stamp out illicit drug use and help afflicted families across Hawaii access treatment and navigate the difficult path to recovery.
The Hawaii Drug Control Plan, unveiled in 2005, took a three-pronged approach to address the pervasive drug control problem: prevention, enforcement and treatment.
Evidence shows this approach is paying off.
Our state has experienced a steady decline in meth use in the workplace during the past several years. Meth use in the workplace now is at its lowest rate since we began compiling test results in 2004. In the past year alone, crystal methamphetamine use in the workplace dropped 33 percent from the first quarter of 2007 to the second quarter of 2008.
Additionally, unprecedented cooperation among federal, state and local law enforcement has resulted in significant inroads in the crystal methamphetamine and other drug trafficking trade. From 2004 through 2007, law enforcement dismantled or disrupted 309 drug-trafficking organizations while seizing more than 817 pounds of ice, which otherwise would have made its way to our communities.
The number of ice labs in Hawaii fell from 17 in 2005 to only two in 2007, due to new laws supported by the administration that limit the availability of pseudoephedrine, a precursor chemical of ice, to would-be meth producers.
Ice is now harder to obtain, less pure and significantly higher in price - indicators that interdiction and enforcement efforts are working.
Recent statistics also show that overall crime on Oahu declined for the fourth straight year to the lowest level in decades. In particular, property crimes, which often are tied to drug activity, have fallen dramatically. In Honolulu, property crimes dropped every year since 2002, when there were 54,670 incidents. Last year, that number fell 32 percent to 37,197. Law enforcement credits the declining crime rate in large part to a focus on drug traffickers and on increased community vigilance.
While enforcement often receives the media attention, prevention is the most effective and cost-efficient strategy in any long-term drug control effort. The ice epidemic we experienced earlier this decade mobilized communities and individuals throughout the state to respond at the neighborhood and grass-roots levels. In 2006, the state secured $11 million from the federal government to bring together the state, counties and communities to develop and implement a coordinated, needs-based, data-driven substance abuse prevention strategy.
These prevention efforts, emphasizing the need to change societal norms, attitudes and behaviors about illicit drug use and alcohol consumption, are paying off. Youth drug use and underage drinking rates in Hawaii have steadily declined. Alcohol use, binge drinking, marijuana use and cocaine use among our high school students are at their lowest levels in more than 12 years. Methamphetamine use by young people also has dropped, from 7.7 percent in 1999 to 4.5 percent last year.
There also has been a drop in treatment admissions for crystal methamphetamine. In 2007, there were 3,270 adult admissions for crystal meth addiction, compared to 2005 when there were 3,538 treatment admissions for the drug. Although crystal meth is still the leading cause of treatment admissions in the state, the rate of ice admissions has dropped from 50.2 percent in 2004 to 48.2 percent in 2007.
The state recognizes the importance of recovery support services as an important component in the continuum of care for those in recovery. In an innovative initiative, the state secured $8.25 million in federal funds to provide recovery support services such as employment training, child care, transportation and housing assistance to parents in the Child Welfare Services system, where it is estimated that roughly 80 to 90 percent of adults or parents experience substance abuse problems.
Overall, the coordinated and committed efforts of so many, especially those at the community level, have led to significant inroads in dealing with ice, other illicit drugs and underage drinking.
The Lingle-Aiona administration is proud to have led in partnership with federal and county government, and especially with individual communities, in achieving the progress that has been made; however, we must together continue an aggressive and vigilant approach in dealing with the challenges and constant threat that drugs and underage drinking pose to all of us.
Karl Espaldon is the drug control liaison for the state of Hawaii.