Mike Young mug On Faith

Mike Young

We all need to get
involved in ‘ice’ fight

On Sept. 24, one of our church families -- Richard Turner, executive producer, his wife, Michele, and teens Nathan and Melody (and a host of talented, committed others) -- created a virtual town hall meeting on Olelo called "Breakin' the Ice." Originating from Oleo's Mapunapuna studio and three other locations on Oahu, it was part of a continuing community-wide response to crystal methamphetamine abuse.

It should be next to impossible not to know that there is an attempted major push in our community to do something about the widespread and devastating use of this drug. What is different about this phenomenon is that it is not about more law enforcement and more incarceration; it is not a demand for somebody (else) to do something.

It is rather a call to one another -- neighbors, families, local community members -- to get involved in responding to the problem. In that, it is rare if not unique. If the drug war mercenaries aren't careful, the people may take the action away from them.

The irony of ice is that its widespread availability is a direct consequence of the predominantly cops-and-robbers orientation and emphasis of the drug war. It came on the drug scene in its current incarnation as a consequence of the interdiction programs against marijuana and cocaine.

Pot and coke are agricultural products. Suppliers need fairly large places to grow them, and a distribution system to get them from where they can be grown to their potential customers. But making ice is a cottage industry. With a relatively small investment in readily available precursor chemicals and a little smarts, the drug can be manufactured in your neighbor's kitchen. It isn't the international drug cartels now; it's us. And so are its victims.

This irony that the problem is partly caused by the drug war is of little practical use in dealing with the scourge of ice. Its contribution may be to get us to pause before assuming that the usual cops-and-robbers response will be useful.

A few simple principles should guide our public policy response:

-- Drug abuse -- especially ice -- is primarily a public health problem, and only secondarily a law enforcement problem. Treating it as a law enforcement problem FIRST is what has crippled the effectiveness of our response so far.

An enthusiastic cops-and-robbers response raises the risk, which raises the price, which raises the attractiveness of the trade. And it discourages the ready-to-quit user from seeking help.

-- Find a way to get the money out of the trade.

Treatment on demand without having to volunteer to be a criminal first is one way. Once users are hooked, they no longer enjoy being drug abusers. "Want" becomes "must have"; price becomes no object.

Unfortunately, this is where our misplaced moralistic response gets in the way. There are many ways to take the money out of the trade, but most have the appearance of approving of drugs. So for that fear, we continue to respond in ways guaranteed to fail. However, they have the appearance of disapproval and make us appear to be "doing something" despite their abject failure.

We respond to no other public health problem in this self-defeating, destructive way; why do we do it with drugs?

The ice uprising recognizes that ice is more of a public health problem. It is amenable to community organizing. It does not have a single solution, and calls for a multi-pronged community collaborative response.

If it can be sustained, it just might bear some fruit -- something the war on drugs hasn't been able to do with decades and billions of dollars.

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