Tox Tuesday: Drug abuse in Hawaii

Drugs4_blogIn one word, “paradise” is often the perception that comes from the island nation of Hawaii. Along with beautiful white sandy beaches, tropical flowers, and day after day of perfect surfing conditions, however, Hawaii and its residents have similar concerns regarding the rise in drug abuse their state faces just like others area of the U.S.

Beginning in the early 1980s, methamphetamine first appeared in Hawaii when Chinese drug trafficking organizations began test-marketing ice, a crystallized form of methamphetamine, in the Philippines, Korea, and other parts of Southeast Asia. From there, it came to Hawaii’s large Asian communities and continued to gain popularity. In 2001, approximately 37% of men jailed in Honolulu tested positive for methamphetamine, which was higher than any other major U.S. city, the federal government said in an article from the White House.

Taken orally, smoked, snorted, or dissolved in water or alcohol and injected, methamphetamine produces an immediate, intense euphoria. Because the pleasure also fades quickly, users often take repeated doses, leading to a quick addiction. Also, because the drug can be concocted from readily available chemicals and made in homemade laboratories, meth houses also began popping up throughout the islands.

Experts unanimously blame the high crime rate, predominantly property crimes, in Hawaii on methamphetamine use and addiction and also associated it with violent crimes, such as domestic abuse, child neglect, hostage situations, and homicides, all of which continued to increase throughout the early 2000s.

During this same time period, methamphetamine use overtook alcohol as the primary substance used by adults admitted to treatment centers in Hawaii, according to a CBS News Article. The 2002, a total of 2,888 ice users were admitted to treatment centers, which was double the amount from just four years prior.

Hawaii’s methamphetamine problem reached its peak in 2005, as the Honolulu Police alone investigated 962 ice-related cases that led to 719 arrests. Then, in 2006 came a pseudoephedrine crackdown, meaning the key ingredient for cooking ice was cut off.  From that time, drug enforcement authorities saw the number of meth lab busts disappear state-wide and between 2006 and 2010, there were no lab busts reported.

Adding to the crackdown on pseudoephedrine, The Hawaii Meth Project was established in 2009 which created a large-scale, statewide prevention campaign spanning TV, radio, billboards, high school newspapers and the internet. As stated in a article, through raw and intense ads the project has helped Hawaii teens and young adults come to view meth as more dangerous and recognize the Hawaii Meth Project as a key source of information.

While these efforts have helped and decreased the statistics surrounding meth-related drug use, busts, crime and overdose deaths, the Honolulu Prosecutors Office has said the problem is far from over as the drug is still being imported on to the islands.

“It’s coming in from Nevada and California, they are body packing it, bringing it in cargos and vessels,” Larry Burnett, of the HIDTA, the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas said in the article.

Along with methamphetamine, another drug-related problem is rising in Hawaii. According to the White House report, prescription drug overdoses top auto accidents as the leading cause of death in Hawaii. In fact, over the past decade, these overdose deaths have climbed 68% state-wide.

As the demand continues to grow for prescription painkillers, Hawaii officials have also seen some addicts graduating to heroin, as one article states it has become easier to find and is less expensive.

“Some of those people have started using heroin because Oxycontin is too expensive and they’re telling me heroin is cheaper and easier to get,” Carolyn Rose-Slane, Detox Director of the Salvation Army’s Addiction Treatment Services in Honolulu, said in the article.

Hawaii is not alone however, as prescription drug abuse has become the fastest growing drug problem in the nation according to the White House. This report lays out necessary actions needed by state governments to help combat this problem and are a part of The Administration’s Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention Plan, entitled, “Epidemic: Responding to America’s Prescription Drug Abuse Crisis.

This report provides a national framework for reducing prescription drug diversion and abuse by supporting the expansion of state-based prescription drug monitoring programs, recommending secure, more convenient, and environmentally responsible disposal methods to remove expired, unused, or unneeded medications from the home, supporting education for patients and healthcare providers, and reducing the prevalence of pill mills and doctor shopping through enforcement efforts.

With parts of this plan currently in action and recently enacted legislation, giving Hawaii’s Electronic Prescription Accountability System new life, data about those receiving prescription drugs in Hawaii can also be shared with other states that have government-authorized prescription monitoring programs.

On top of the growing concerns of prescription painkillers, also comes the issue of marijuana use and addiction. Current data shows that marijuana is now the most commonly used and cited drug among primary drug treatment admissions in the state.

Adding to the concern of marijuana use is new state legislation that could allow medical marijuana dispensaries and production centers in each Hawaii county as early as next year. Hawaii was one of the first states to legalize medical marijuana back in 2000, but they’ve resisted offering medical dispensaries since then preferring to allow patients growing rights without stipulating any other methods of obtaining cannabis.

However, Hawaii State Legislature recently passed a bill that would create medical marijuana dispensaries as soon as possible according to a recent article.

There are at least 13,000 Hawaii residents who have seizures, which is a qualifying condition to receive medical marijuana, said Samantha West, who is the director for Epilepsy Foundation of Hawaii. That means the number who would qualify for medical marijuana in the state would be much higher than this as other conditions including cancer, HIV/AIDS, severe nausea or glaucoma also qualify for a medical marijuana prescription.

As stated in the article, the bill was met by opposition from anti-drug advocates, nervous parents and a few law enforcement officials, who are concerned that dispensaries could put medical marijuana into the hands of children.

“There is a reason marijuana is the most widely used substance in the world — it’s an addiction,” Eva Andrade, executive director of the Hawaii Family Forum, said in the article.

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