Ice storm: Epidemic of the Islands

Hawaii tries to kick
a deadly addiction


Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona will convene an "Ice Summit" next week to develop a battle plan in the war against Hawaii's so-called ice epidemic. Today, the Star-Bulletin kicks off "Ice Storm," a series of articles that will explore the damage that this addictive drug has wrought in the islands, how it has destroyed lives and families, and possible ways Hawaii can kick the ice habit.

Gary Modafferi was a young, sharp trial lawyer who rose quickly to head the narcotics division of the Honolulu Prosecutor's Office, according to friends and colleagues.

But quietly, Modafferi started smoking "ice," methamphetamine in crystalline form that users say delivers an immediate, intense rush of pleasure and power. It started as a social thing, friends say, but then it took control.

The exacting legal strategist started appearing late in court, ill prepared and with his hair and clothes disheveled, colleagues said. At one point, he even shaved his head.

"He went from being a close friend and the best man at my wedding to being a complete stranger," said Myles Breiner, a Honolulu criminal attorney.

In 1998, Modafferi was given a three-month prison sentence and a $10,000 fine for selling less than a gram of ice to an informant. He lost his home, car and his license to practice law.

Modafferi's fall shows how ice or "batu," a wickedly addictive and widely available drug, steals control of people's minds and lives regardless of socioeconomic status.

Ice use has become such a widespread problem that some lawmakers from the governor to legislators and City Council members routinely refer to it as "the ice epidemic" and have put it at the top of the political agenda.

This summer, the Legislature formed a joint House-Senate Task Force on Ice and Drug Abatement to study the problem and develop legislative answers. The administration is holding an invitation-only ice summit Sept. 15 to 17 at the Sheraton Waikiki Hotel to discuss the problem and address issues ranging from law enforcement to treatment, prisons and prevention. In preparation for the summit, Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona has held 27 town meetings from Waianae and Kailua to Hilo and Lahaina to gather opinions.

"This isn't a new epidemic," said Claire Woods, who runs a residential treatment program for women with children at The Salvation Army. "It's taken 20 years for the problem to get this bad. I think the community has been in denial, and now people are finally paying attention."

Public outrage over ice has been fueled by headline-making crimes such as the fatal March shooting of Honolulu police officer Glen Gaspar, allegedly by ice user Shane Mark; the 2002 murder of Tracey Tominaga by her crystal meth supplier, Jason Perry; and several police standoffs and hostage-takings at the hands of ice users.

A growing number of people also have been victims of car thefts and break-ins that police often attribute to ice users looking for quick cash.

This summer, ordinary citizens, who have watched ice invade their neighborhoods and destroy lives, have thronged roadways to wave signs in protest.

"We've had an ice problem since the 1980s, and the rest of the country has only had it for a few years," said Larry Williams, director of The Salvation Army's Addiction Treatment Services.

Hawaii has been at the forefront of meth use in the country, Williams said, but it has suffered when it comes to getting federal help. For years, the federal government has focused on marijuana eradication in Hawaii and ignored the meth problem, he said.

Williams said the drug strategy is set by national priorities and since meth had yet to become a national problem, it got little federal help.

"For 15 years, it's been like the federal government was oblivious to the problem," he said. "But now they're waking up."

Some state legislators even argue that the federal war on marijuana actually pushed some people to switch to ice.


State Sen. Colleen Hanabusa (D, Waianae), co-chairwoman of the ice task force, said it is time to recognize meth as a major problem and for the Legislature to take action.

"The challenge is to figure out how to use the state's limited money and resources the most effectively and whether those resources should be put into treatment, law enforcement, prevention, whatever," she said.

There are no scientific figures estimating the number of ice users in Hawaii, but last year more than 2,730 adults sought treatment for ice addiction, which was more than the number seeking treatment for alcohol and marijuana combined.

And U.S. Attorney Ed Kubo stands by what he calls his "accurate ballpark guesstimate" that there are 30,000 ice addicts in the state, which has 1.2 million people.

"Ice is a serious health problem that is growing by staggering proportions each year, and people in our communities are screaming for us to do something about it," said Kubo, who along with Honolulu Prosecutor Peter Carlisle is lobbying the Legislature for tougher wiretapping laws and stronger search and seizure laws to help stem drug trafficking.

Ice, which police officers and drug treatment counselors began detecting around 1985, has taken such a strong hold over the last 20 years that Hawaii has earned the title of "Ice Capital" of the nation.

Hawaii got hooked on ice in the 1980s, before the rest of the country, when the drug streamed in from Korea and Southeast Asia. Criminal organizations based in China, looking for an alternative to heroin, started test-marketing meth in the Philippines. Law enforcement experts say the drug became popular there and easily moved east to Hawaii.

Ice and ice paraphernalia.

"We were a convenient stopping place and a market," Carlisle said.

"It was easy for subcultures from those countries to infiltrate Hawaii, bringing with them a potent, smokeable form of the drug," Carlisle said.

He added: "And the drug caught on because we have a smoking culture. It was easy for people to progress from smoking pakalolo (marijuana) to ice."

M.P. "Andy" Anderson, executive director of The Hina Mauka Recovery Center, a large drug treatment facility, said ice is a "quickly addicting drug."

"It caught on here because smoking is a quick and lasting high. It's also very easy to get and relatively cheap," Anderson said.

Once Hawaii became an established market for meth, it attracted trade from Mexico and the West Coast.

"Once we got established, we just got slammed by Mexico and were sandwiched between meth coming from the Orient and Mexico," said Carlisle, adding that most of it now comes from Mexico and the West Coast.

For the past three years, Honolulu has had the highest percentage of arrested males testing positive for ice among 36 metropolitan areas, according to the Department of Justice's Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring project.

The project, which relies on voluntary urine tests and interviews, is one of the main national measures used to track drug trends across the county.

In 2000, the first year that Honolulu was included in the study, 35.9 percent of arrested males tested positive for ice. Honolulu easily took the title of "Ice Capital" from California cities (San Diego at 26.3 percent, Sacramento at 29.3, San Jose at 21.5 percent) that had held it for years.

In 2001, Honolulu's percentage of male arrestees who tested positive for ice hit 37.4 percent, again making it the top city. For the first nine months of 2002, 44.8 percent of arrested males tested positive compared to second-place Sacramento, which had 33.5 percent for the entire year.

"The ADAM numbers unequivocally prove the extent of the ice problem in Hawaii, which far outstrips the mainland," Carlisle said.

In hearings at the Legislature this summer, health-care providers have testified that they have treated addicts as young as 9 years old and people who have been addicted for 10 and 15 years. Unlike other drugs, it's also a generational problem and some providers say that to treat the children, they need to treat the parents and even the grandparents.

"You can't put a face or a label on the typical ice user," said Circuit Judge Marcia Waldorf of the Hawaii Adult Drug Court program. "It's anybody. It's the person next to you at work."

She said many addicts can function in their working lives for years without being detected.

"I've had 19-year-olds with no education come before me and 50-year-olds who once had a career, a house and a family but doesn't have them anymore. ... I've seen professionals and someone with a law degree," Waldorf said.

When she questions people in her court, she finds "some started using at 12 and others at 47," she said. "I've talked to people who said they first tried ice in a car when their father lit up a pipe."

Attorney Breiner, Modafferi's colleague, said he knows professionals who use the drug and some who deal it when they have financial problems.

While there is no scientific study identifying the number of ice addicts statewide, there is evidence that ice continues to be a major problem:

>> Over the past five years, the number of adults seeking treatment for ice addiction has almost doubled to more than 2,730 from 1,423, according to state Department of Health statistics.

>> In 1987, about 5 percent of the drug treatment cases the Salvation Army saw were ice related. Today, more than 85 percent are.

>> About 81 percent of the cases in adult Drug Court are ice-related, according to Waldorf.

>> The number of children referred to Child Protective Services in cases where alcohol and drug abuse are involved in the home has nearly tripled since 1992, and now makes up half of the total. Human Services Director Lillian Koller attributes much of that increase to the use of ice.

>> The number of deaths in which ice is in the person's system has more than tripled in the last 10 years, to 62 in 2002 from 20 in 1992, according to the Honolulu Medical Examiner's office.

>> Of 62 deaths related to ice in 2002, 20 were declared overdoses, another 17 were suicides and 10 were homicides, according to the city medical examiner.

>> In 2002, the Honolulu Police Department seized 41,513 grams of ice, compared with 27,205 in 2001.

>> In 2002, HPD seized 15 drug "ice labs," compared with 7 in 2001.

>> Between November 2002 and May 2003, the state gave random drug tests to a total of 7,456 prison inmates statewide. Of 373 who tested positive for drugs, 69 percent showed ice, 15 percent marijuana and the rest was a mix of other drugs.

"There are no hard-core numbers for how many ice users we have," said Bill Wood, a professor of sociology at the University of Hawaii. "But we have plenty of indicators from deaths in the coroner's office to treatment numbers to ADAM numbers that show we have a serious ice problem."

Wood is also a member of the drug epidemiology work group for the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which forecasts drug trends regionally and nationally.

"Epidemics come in waves, and the first wave of the ice epidemic came in 1989," Wood said. "The subsequent waves are new groups of users and the social problems they produce."

Wood said epidemiologists look first for a rise in treatment numbers and then mortality rates in gauging the course of an epidemic. He noted that both those numbers have been rising steadily for adult users over the past 10 years and do not appear to be slowing down, which indicates the end of any epidemic is not yet in sight.

Surprisingly, Wood said, the number of adolescent users, as tracked in treatment numbers and school surveys, is not rising. He said adolescent numbers would be expected to increase in subsequent waves of the epidemic. But today, about half the number of adolescents are using ice now compared with 1989.

Unlike adults, the drugs of choice among adolescents remain marijuana and alcohol, according to health department statistics.

Over the past five years, the percentage of adolescents seeking treatment for ice addiction hasn't changed much. Ice is the primary drug for between 8 percent and 10 percent of adolescents being treated for substance abuse. The majority -- between 60 percent and 64 percent -- seek treatment for marijuana, and 23 percent to 27 percent need help for alcohol use.

"The adolescent numbers are the one ray of hope in the ice war," Wood said.

Some addicts say they started using ice as a party drug. Others start using it to lose weight or stay awake to work several jobs. Some professionals say the drug makes them intensely focused and highly productive and they use it to make them sharper at work, the same reason many Wall Street professionals say they snorted cocaine during the 1980s.

"A person can become addicted in as little as one use," said Barry Carlton, chief of psychiatry at the Queen's Medical Center.

Treatment experts say a major challenge is that people in Hawaii have been addicted far longer than in other places. The long-term effects on the brain, behavior and the body are more severe. Long-term addicts also tend to have other problems, including unemployment, legal battles and family issues such as losing custody of children.

"We are at the epicenter of methamphetamine abuse nationally," Carlton said. "We know the course of this illness and we must prevent the next generation of abuse."

>> Tomorrow: One family's story serves as a sobering warning to all parents.


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