Thursday, December 9, 1999

Experts hear
tales of crystal
meth abuse

State and federal officials
brainstorm for solutions to
Hawaii's 'ice' problem

By Pat Omandam


In 1985, a highly addictive drug -- known as crank, speed or "ice" -- appeared in Hawaii and users found it gave them a powerful high that lasted for days.

Initially, Honolulu police admitted they didn't know much about this "poor man's cocaine," only that it was being distributed by local Filipino gangs in the mid-80s.

Today, crystal methamphetamine has become a significant drug problem in Hawaii that has substance abuse treatment experts, as well as federal and state government officials, brainstorming for solutions.

"It's insidious. It just kind of started as a very small problem, and all of a sudden it was everywhere," said Jane A. Taylor, practice and systems development director for the federal Center for Substance Abuse Treatment.

They say Hawaii probably has the worst crystal meth problem in the country.

Taylor, among those attending a regional conference on methamphetamine this week at the state Capitol, said yesterday that it is obvious the state has a big methamphetamine abuse problem that "puts Hawaii at the very top"

The availability of the powdered drug and the ease with which it can be converted to a smokable crystal form are among the reasons it has spread rapidly, she said.

"Methamphetamine is the drug of choice in Hawaii and the consequences of its use are having a detrimental effect on its population," said H. Westley Clark, director of the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment.

Honolulu police Lt. Michael Moses of the Narcotics/Vice Division said officials estimate there are 30,000 hard-core methamphetamine users here, and as many as three times that number are categorized as recreational users.

The number of deaths in Hawaii attributed to "ice" rose to 36 in 1997 from 11 in 1990.

Many recovering crystal meth addicts told a panel of experts that there is not enough long-term treatment available, and that more must be done to prevent children from trying the drug. Most who spoke identified themselves only by first names.

Sinesa, a junior at Campbell High School, has never tried "ice" but has seen it wreak havoc on her friends. The drug use has put them in the hospital and destroyed family relationships, she said.

A crystal meth addiction cost Frank his house, his car and his family. He thinks "ice" is the cause of much of the violent crimes being committed today.

"I believe this drug is just like cockroaches, infesting the entire island and bringing a lot of violence into the island," he said.

State Sen. Suzanne Chun Oakland (D, Liliha) said she will introduce two bills next legislative session to help recovering addicts.

The first would use money from the wine and beer tax and from DUI fines to create a fund for substance abuse treatment. The bill mandates that first- and second-time drug offenders be placed in substance abuse treatment rather than in jail, she said.

The other measure requires the health insurance industry to extend existing drug treatment coverage, which may cost it more initially but less in the long-run. Chun Oakland said the 30-day maximum coverage provided now is not long enough for addicts to make a full recovery.


The rap sheet on crystal methamphetamine in Hawaii, culled from the town hall meeting:

Bullet Appeared in Hawaii: 1985
Bullet How: Distributed by local gangs.
Bullet Origin: Japan, Korea, and the Philippines. Today, 90 percent comes from Mexico via California.
Bullet Conversion: Raw meth is converted into crystal form in makeshift labs. Police say the raw drug can be produced locally using over-the-counter drugs.
Bullet Street prices: Late 1980s, $7,000 an ounce. Today, $3,500 to $5,000 an ounce.
Bullet Potency: 90 to 100 percent pure when smoked. One gram can produce 10 to 15 "hits."
Bullet Health problems: High potency causes brain damage, and makes abusers psychotic, paranoid and schizophrenic.

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