‘Ice’ usage

Government officials are using
mistakenly high numbers to
call for a war on drugs

Law enforcement officials from the U.S. attorney to the city prosecutor have been promoting a war against the "ice epidemic" this summer and have justified their call for stronger state laws by quoting an alarming statistic that 30,000 people in Hawaii are hard-core users and another 90,000 are recreational users.

However, the University of Hawaii professor who is cited as the source of those numbers says he never made such an estimate.

"I absolutely never said anything near 30,000 people. Certainly not 90,000 users or 120,000. That's ridiculous," said William Wood, a professor of sociology who also serves on the drug epidemiology work group for the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which forecasts drug trends regionally and nationally.

Wood said yesterday that in a 2000 study he estimated 8,100 people in the state were hard-core crystal methamphetamine users in need of treatment after a 1998 household survey of more than 5,000 people in Hawaii.

He said he had no idea how that 8,100 became 30,000.

The 30,000 figure was cited as recently as yesterday morning by U.S. Attorney for Hawaii Ed Kubo in testimony before the Joint House-Senate Task Force on Ice and Drug Abatement. The task force has been holding informational hearings this summer to help it create a legislative package to address the ice problem.

The scrutiny comes during a summer when crystal meth abuse tops the political agenda as leaders look for ways to address what has been labeled the "ice epidemic." Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona has been holding community meetings to discuss the problem. He plans to hold an ice drug summit Sept. 17-18 and will present the administration's legislative package for the next session.

Referring to the 30,000 estimate, Wood said: "These numbers are getting repeated and are taking on a life of their own. It seems people are reaching for the highest numbers and the highest shock value."

Wood said that while the numbers are inflated, that does not take away from ice being a serious problem that needs immediate attention.

"It's been an epidemic for years, and it's time something is finally done about it," said Wood.

Kubo said late yesterday that he first learned of the 30,000 estimate in a Dec. 9, 1999, Star-Bulletin article that covered an ice presentation at the Capitol.

The article paraphrased Honolulu Police Lt. Michael Moses, with the Narcotics/Vice Division, saying that "there are 30,000 hard-core methamphetamine users here, and as many as three times that number are categorized as recreational users."

"Lt. Moses was my source," said Kubo, adding, "I was repeating what Mike actually said to you guys."

Moses recently told the Star-Bulletin he never said 30,000 and that his source for ice numbers was always Wood, who was working on his 2000 study at the time of the 1999 Capitol press conference. Moses said he did not ask the paper for a correction.

Kubo said he recently spoke with Moses, who said "he was terribly misquoted by your paper, but I don't believe that occurred."

Kubo said other HPD narcotics officers told him the numbers were right and that Wood was the source.

In his testimony yesterday morning, Kubo painted a daunting picture of the ice epidemic affecting 120,000 people, or one in every 10 residents.

Kubo said that depending on whether the 30,000 use one-sixteenth of a gram or one-sixteenth of an ounce per day, between 1,520 pounds and 42,733 pounds are consumed here a year. He noted that law enforcement in Hawaii has seized 100 to 200 pounds of ice a year.

If street costs are factored in, he said ice is a big business somewhere between a low of $547 million a year to a high of $1.8 billion.

Kubo told legislators they need to amend the Hawaii state Constitution so that wiretapping and other search and seizure laws can be modified to be more in line with federal laws.

He pointed out that evidence gathered under federal rules is not acceptable in state courts and that as a result, between 70 and 100 drug defendants go untried by the state each year.

City Prosecutor Peter Carlisle, who has also often quoted the 30,000 estimate in his quest to strengthen the same state laws, said yesterday: "It sure isn't my number. I'm not sure where it came from. They're Ed's numbers."

Elaine Wilson, chief of the state's alcohol and drug abuse division of the Department of Health, said, "I don't know where the 30,000 came from or where the 90,000 came from."

Referring to Wood's 2000 study based on 1998 data, Wilson said, "I'm not comfortable sticking with 1998 numbers in a 2003 world."

Wood said, "The fact is, we really don't know how many users there are out there."

He added, "Without getting alarmist about it, we should just say that we won't tolerate any number of users or abusers, whether it's 8,000 or 10,000 or 30,000 or 60,000. It's a big problem and we need to act now."


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