Treatment figures
show ‘ice’ use high

A state health official tells
lawmakers that crystal meth
outpaces both alcohol and pot

More Hawaii adults were treated for addiction to crystal methamphetamine in 2002 than for alcohol and marijuana combined, according to state figures released yesterday.

Elaine Wilson, chief of the state Department of Health's alcohol and drug abuse division, reported that 2,730 adults were treated for "ice" addiction, compared with 2,051 who were treated for alcohol abuse and 558 treated for marijuana.

Since 1998 the number of adults treated for ice addiction has almost doubled from 1,423.

"I think these figures show the severity of the ice problem, that people are using it enough to require treatment," said Wilson.

Wilson and other health-care experts say that most ice addicts use several drugs, such as alcohol or marijuana, in addition to their primary drug of choice. The department's data identify the primary drug for which someone is treated.


"In no way would we want the public to think that we still don't have a serious alcohol problem," said Wilson, adding, "Most drug users are poly-drug users with alcohol."

Wilson presented the new figures yesterday before members of the Joint House-Senate Task Force on Ice and Drug Abatement, which has been holding informational hearings all summer. The task force hopes to address the state's persistent ice problem with a legislative package offering solutions ranging from treatment and prevention to possible changes in search and seizure laws.

Wilson's numbers do not account for all people treated for ice addiction in the state.

Her figures are a compilation of admissions data collected from all Hawaii community-based treatment facilities that get some state alcohol and drug abuse funding.

The numbers include someone with private insurance who goes to a provider such as Hina Mauka, which treats both privately insured and publicly funded patients. The data do not detect someone who is privately insured and goes to the mainland for treatment or to a therapist who only takes privately insured patients.

Wilson's data show that for adolescents, treatment for marijuana and alcohol abuse far outstrips treatment for ice.

In 2002, for example, 949 adolescents were treated for marijuana abuse and 378 were treated for alcohol, while 158 were treated for ice as their primary drug.

Barry Carlton, chief of psychiatry at the Queen's Medical Center, told the task force that the numbers for adolescent meth use may be lower because the state's numbers are from school-based and court-ordered programs. He said many adolescents with serious ice problems drop out of school and may not show up as a treatment statistic until they are adults.

William Wood, a sociology professor at the University of Hawaii, told task force members that there is no current "hard data for the number of ice users" in the state.

Wood said the most reliable data are from a 1998 federally funded household survey of 5,050 people. Based on the results of that survey, Wood estimated that 8,100 people statewide used ice. At that time the state reported 1,423 people were treated for ice addiction.

"But these numbers are old and out of date," said Wood, who is also a member of the drug epidemiology work group for the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which forecasts drug trends regionally and nationally.

Earlier this month, Wood questioned numbers from U.S. Attorney Ed Kubo that there are 30,000 ice users in the state.

"We have a serious ice problem. We have an epidemic. We don't need to overstate it," said Wood in an interview earlier this month.

Kubo has said he stands by the number as an "accurate ballpark guesstimate."

In the absence of a recent household survey, Wood said there are other "strong indicators that ice is a terrible problem."

Wood pointed to Wilson's treatment numbers.

He also noted that the Medical Examiner's Office has reported a sharp increase in the number of people dying with ice in their system. Toxicology reports showed 11 deaths with ice in 1991 compared with 62 deaths in 2002.

Asked if the numbers really show there is an "ice epidemic," Wood said: "It's a moving target to define an epidemic, but a characteristic of an epidemic is that it is a problem so pervasive it is affecting a large population. We have an ice epidemic, and the trends show it is getting worse with no signs of letting up."


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