Honolulu Lite

Charles Memminger

‘Ice’ user numbers
enough to make you
reach for a pill

I didn't realize how jaded I've become about figures and statistics released by government honchos until the brouhaha erupted last week concerning the number of "ice" (a k a crystal methamphetamine) users in Hawaii.

U.S. Attorney Ed Kubo has been saying that there are 30,000 hard-core and 90,000 "recreational" ice users in the state. I don't think politicians and law enforcement officials actually think people pay attention when they throw out numbers, so it must have come as a surprise when the Star-Bulletin's Sally Apgar decided to check the source of Kubo's figures.

This is where it gets funny. It turns out Kubo was getting his numbers from a narcotics cop who testified at the state Legislature, and the cop said he had gotten his numbers from a University of Hawaii sociology professor. When Apgar talked to the prof, William Wood, he said he never came up with the 30,000 or 90,000 numbers and that frankly, those numbers are insane. (You gotta hope authorities are being more careful with the chain of custody of trial evidence than they are with drug statistics.)

Thirty thousand ice addicts? There can't possibly be that many in Hawaii. That would mean one out of 10 people are into ice. So I thought of nine of my friends and, well, it turns out that most of them are drugged-out degenerates who not only have smoked ice but probably snorted Drano and injected vermouth, so that wasn't a good test. YOU think of nine of YOUR friends. Are any ice addicts? See? It works a lot better that way.

ANYWAY, THE UH professor believes there are probably 8,000 chronic ice users, which sounds more likely. It's hard to imagine the Aloha Stadium filled with people smoking ice, but it's not hard to imagine the Waikiki Shell filled with ice heads, especially if Yanni is performing. (The only possible way to listen to Yanni is to be cranked out of your mind on drugs or with a bullet in your brain, door No. 2 being the more preferable.)

I've known Ed Kubo since he was a lowly assistant city prosecutor busting bottom-tier yakuza figures. It's interesting that, back then, Kubo said there were probably 30,000 hard-core yakuza figures and another 90,000 "recreational yakuza" in Hawaii. Just kidding.

My point is that Ed Kubo is a serious, hard-working guy with a long record of crime-fighting, and if I knew he was going to become the U.S. attorney one day, I would have been a lot nicer to him. I don't think Ed was trying to pull the wool over anyone's eyes when he threw out the 30,000 ice user figure. It's a nice, big, round number -- not to mention scary -- and meth use is a nice, big, round, scary problem. I don't agree with his term "recreational ice user" because it sounds too much like "recreational suicide participant" or "recreational Yanni enthusiast."

Kubo says he stands by the 30,000 number as "an accurate ballpark guesstimate," a phrase that immediately became my favorite figure of speech of all time. He out-Yogi'd Yogi Berra on that one.

The thing is, I assume every public official inflates numbers to suit their own purpose and, as a result, numbers cease to have meaning to me. Unless Ed Kubo says he's going to give me $30,000. Then I'd be listening.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Charles Memminger, winner of National Society of Newspaper Columnists awards, appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. E-mail


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