Officials defend
isle ‘ice’ numbers

Leaders say the data should not
diminish the problem's urgency

'Ice' takes center stage at Lingle talk

U.S. Attorney Ed Kubo said yesterday he stands behind the estimate that 30,000 people in Hawaii are "chronic users" of crystal methamphetamine as "an accurate ballpark guesstimate" of the problem today.

In a Star-Bulletin story yesterday, University of Hawaii sociology professor William Wood, cited as the source of that figure, denied he ever made such an estimate.

He called "ridiculous'' estimates that 30,000 people in the state are chronic "ice" users and another 90,000 are recreational users. Those numbers, which would mean that one in 10 isle resident uses "ice," have been used by Kubo and others seeking tougher state laws to combat the drug.

Key legislative leaders said yesterday that questionable figures on the number of ice users do not diminish the urgency of the problem. However, they also said accurate information is needed to develop a plan to fight the drug problem.

A House-Senate Task Force on Ice and Drug Abatement and Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona Jr. are formulating separate legislative packages for next session to tackle the ice problem.

Wood said it is difficult to estimate the number of ice users, but that it has been a major problem for years and needs to be addressed.

Kubo and other law enforcement officers such as city Prosecutor Peter Carlisle have used the figures in recent public hearings and before the Legislature to get tougher wiretap and search laws.

"I want to focus attention on the 30,000 chronic users. They are the problem," Kubo said yesterday. "It is a best guesstimate and by no means is intended to be an accurate number."

Carlisle said: "The numbers are irrelevant. The key is that ice is a mega-league problem, and anyone in law enforcement will tell you that. The problem is very real and everyone knows it."

Aiona, commenting during a break in his "talk story" session in Hilo about ice last night, said he doesn't know what the real numbers are. "The bottom line is that we have a problem in the community and we need to address that," he said.

Without firm numbers, he suggested the public consider the credibility of people speaking. "Ed Kubo, I respect him very much," Aiona said. "I don't think it's important for me to look and see if (certain numbers) are accurate or inaccurate."

On Monday morning, Kubo quoted the 30,000 and 90,000 figures again to the legislative task force. In an interview late Monday, Kubo said the source of the 30,000 was a 1999 Star-Bulletin article that covered an ice presentation at the Capitol. The article paraphrased Lt. Michael Moses, then 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."

Moses denies that he ever stated the figures, but he never asked the Star-Bulletin for a correction. Moses did say that Wood "may" have been his source for ice figures. Kubo said he heard Wood was the source.

At the time of the 1999 news conference, Wood had just completed a 1998 household survey of 5,050 people and estimated there were 8,100 ice users in need of treatment. Wood said that number is a snapshot of 1998 but that no similar household survey has been done since for a more recent number.

Yesterday, Kubo defended the 30,000 figure based on a different source of information: state and federal law enforcement. The figure includes Hawaii County Police Chief Lawrence Mahuna's estimate that the Big Island has 10,000 methamphetamine users, Kubo said.

Mahuna wasn't available for comment yesterday. But Lt. Marshall Kanehailua of the department's vice section said the figure is reasonable. Vice officers keep track of dealers, not users, he said. There are about 20 organizations on the island distributing ice, each with about 20 dealers, Kanehailua said. If each dealer has 20 customers, and some have a lot more than that, then the total numbers of Big Island users would be at least 8,000, he said.

But Kanehailua rejected the idea that there are large numbers of "recreational," or casual, users of ice. "We wouldn't have an epidemic if there were recreational users," he said. "There are no recreational users in ice."

Sen. Colleen Hanabusa (D-Nanakuli-Makua), one of the chairpersons of the ice task force, said the discrepancy in the numbers "doesn't take away from the fact that we have a big ice problem."

But, she added, "When the U.S. attorney or the city prosecutor come before us to testify, we have no reason to believe that their numbers are anything but accurate. I can understand that it is difficult to estimate how many users there are. But if that is the case, we should be told that."

Hanabusa invited Wood and others to meet with the task force to discuss the numbers.

Senate President Robert Bunda (D, Kaena-Wahiawa-Pupukea) said the legislative hearing process is needed to "ferret out the real number."

Bunda said: "We need officials to come forward and validate the number and make sure that these numbers are not just embellished or just inflated for the sake of getting issues off the ground.

"I'm saying we do have a major problem out there, but I'm not sure it's one in 10. I can say in my district, it's a huge problem."

Gov. Linda Lingle declined to comment on whether she felt Kubo's figure was accurate.

"I think it's important any time the government is giving the public estimates, whether it's about homelessness or drug use or any other negative social characteristic, that we try to be as accurate as we can," she said. "I think you're unnecessarily upsetting the public if you overstate it."

Star-Bulletin reporter Rod Thompson and the Associated Press contributed to this report.


‘Ice’ takes center
stage at Lingle talk

The state's war on the so-called "ice" epidemic in Hawaii was the recurring theme at Gov. Linda Lingle's first "talk story" session in Kailua last night.

Between the questions about charter schools and new roads, community members came up often to talk about how "ice," or crystal methamphetamine, affects their lives almost every week.

"On my street, my neighbors was getting busted," said Waimanalo resident Andy Jamila about a raid on a Mekia Street residence yesterday involving allegations of identity theft and ice use.

"You gotta go to the next level, governor," he said. "Neighbors gotta turn in neighbors and families gotta turn in families."

About 250 people packed the sweltering Kailua High School cafeteria for the first of Lingle's statewide town meetings to talk about community issues and concerns.

People asked questions using microphones while others submitted written questions, some anonymously, that were read by Sen. Bob Hogue (R, Kailua-Kaneohe).

"My neighbors are selling drugs," read Hogue from one questionnaire. "Is there a safe, confidential way to report this? Many people are afraid to turn in their neighbors due to repercussions."

Lingle said, "One of the issues that has come up consistently has been the frustration of the public calling police because they know something is going on in the house next door on the block."

However, Lingle added, "police need some evidence and are understaffed in the City and County of Honolulu."

Other issues included whether the state can even the playing field for local companies to vie for big government contracts with the military for projects in Hawaii. One question addressed sending local inmates to mainland prisons.

"Sending prisoners to the mainland is not a good approach ... it's never good to separate inmates from their families," said Lingle. "It's also not smart to take $35 million out of our state and give it to other states."

Lingle said after the meeting that she was happy to have covered so many issues within the two hours.

"I like the variety of issues that came up," she said. "Especially about the children of prisoners ... that's a very important issue."

Lingle was referring to the testimony of Malia Staggs, the ex-wife of Duane Staggs, convicted of the Sept. 28, 1996, murder of his boss, Don Mike Gillis, near the Arizona Memorial. Malia Staggs said that when her ex-husband went to prison in 1997 she was left with a then-3-year-old son and few options.

"There was no support for us seven years ago," said Staggs in tears at the microphone. "And there are so many other kids at risk."

Lingle's next "Talk Story" meeting is Saturday from 4 to 5:30 p.m. at the Royal Lahaina Hotel on Maui.


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