Tuesday, June 15, 1999

Feds escalate isle drug fight

Booming 'ice' use gets Hawaii
labeled a 'high intensity' problem --
opening access to federal personnel
and a $186.5 million program

By Pete Pichaske
Phillips News Service


WASHINGTON -- Hawaii today was named one of the nation's "high intensity drug trafficking areas" by federal drug officials concerned about the state's continuing problem with crystal methamphetamine or "ice" as well as its status as an international drug distribution hub.

The designation will mean an immediate influx of $700,000 to help fight drugs, as well as federal help with training, equipment and personnel.

The designation "is a catalyst for the coordination of law enforcement and prosecution," said Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, the nation's drug czar and director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

The first "high intensity" drug areas were named in 1990 in an attempt to slow drug trafficking in regions with "significant narcotics threats."

The addition of Hawaii and four other geographic areas brings the number of drug trafficking areas to 31. The other four named today were central California, Ohio, Oregon and parts of New England.

The total budget for the program this year is $186.5 million.

Although one New England senator today called the designation, with its clear admission of a drug problem, a decidedly mixed blessing, Hawaii's lawmakers unanimously applauded their state's new status.

Representatives Neil Abercrombie and Patsy Mink noted that Hawaii is a "jumping-off" point for drug trafficking between Asia and the mainland, and said increased efforts should help slow the traffic.

Sen. Daniel Akaka said "the help we can get ... will certainly help us to stem the tide of ice to the mainland."

Ice first appeared in Hawaii about a decade ago, imported from Asia. It has since spread to the West Coast and, now, the Midwest.

Honolulu is among the top eight U.S. cities with the fastest growth of ice use, according to the 1998 annual report by the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The other cities are Denver, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Diego, Detroit, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and St. Louis.

Three of Hawaii's four counties have showed dramatic increases in drug cases handled by local police, according to the national drug control office.

From 1996 to 1998, the number of cases increased by 53 percent in Honolulu and 42 percent in the Big Island, and quadrupled on Kauai.

The courts have seen the ramifications of the state's ice problem, in child abuse cases in particular.

Ice is the No. 1 drug among 90 percent of parents who abuse or neglect their children, according to Child Protective Services. There are about 2,300 confirmed cases of child abuse a year here.

In the last 10 years, child abuse cases have doubled, according to Family Court statistics.

According to a fact sheet prepared by the national drug control office, Hawaii's "accessibility to Los Angeles and Tokyo make the islands a key international drug distribution hub."

The isles' huge volume of cargo and mail, especially at Honolulu Airport, hampers efforts to stop drug trafficking, according to the office.

While local efforts to intercept drugs have met with some success, they have stopped only a fraction of the total traffic.

The fact sheet labeled Hawaii a conduit for drugs shipped from Mexico or the mainland and bound for Pacific islands, such as Guam or American Samoa, or Pacific Rim nations, such as Japan, Korea or Australia.

Authorities in the isles recently seized shipments of ice and cocaine bound for the Pacific Rim.

Law enforcement officials received today's news of additional federal help with open arms.

"That's great," said Keith Kamita, administrator of the Narcotic Enforcement Division, Department of Public Safety. "The added resources should make more of an impact on our efforts. The sharing of information will assist all agencies."

"We'll use the money through our airport program, working with other federal agencies," said Honolulu Police Capt. Thomas Nitta. "It's a continuing problem. We could use the extra money."

HPD is already working with federal agencies on a recently formed drug task force to fight the state's crystal methamphetamine invasion. The agencies include the FBI, Drug Enforcement Agency, Department of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, U.S. Customs, and the state attorney general's office.

Nitta blamed the state court system's shorter sentences for drug traffickers and prison overcrowding for the shorter jail terms drug offenders receive.

Star-Bulletin writer Lori Tighe contributed to this report

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