Pubdate: Wed, 29 Oct 2003
Source: Honolulu Weekly (HI)
Contact:  2003 Honolulu Weekly Inc
Author: Phil Hayworth
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)
Note: To read about the "ice epidemic" in Hawaii, go to .


Did The Crystal Methamphetamine Media Blitz Last Month Daze The Public?

Hawai'i's got an ice problem. If you don't know that by now, you've been
living under a rock. Heck, even the British know about our problem, thanks
to a June 15 article in the London Observer entitled "Poverty Stricken
Hawaiians In Grip of 'Ice' Addiction."

The Observer's Richard Luscombe wrote that "between 10 and 15 percent of
Hawai'i's population of almost 1.25 million are users." That means we have
180,000 ice fiends -- one around nearly every coconut tree.

"If that were true, you wouldn't be able to leave the house," said Bill
Haning, addiction researcher and assistant dean of the University of
Hawai'i's Medical School. "They probably meant that it was the total number
of chronic users of all drugs, including alcohol."

The truth is no one knows how many ice addicts there are -- somewhere
between 8,000 and 40,000, according to various reports. Still, that kind of
mistake is bad news for our No. 1 business, tourism -- even if it is just
the British.

This summer's unprecedented media blitz on the subject culminated in the
Sept. 24 prime-time broadcast of the Edgy Lee documentary Ice: Hawaii's
Crystal Meth Epidemic. Like a tsunami warning, it simultaneously aired on
all nine regular TV stations and Cox radio -- commercial free.

Stations collectively gave up about $300,000 in billable commercial time.
That kind of bottom-line concession from a notoriously money-conscious
industry was, in and of itself, noteworthy.

In spite of the silhouetted interviews and scripted calls for action from
the governor and others, Edgy Lee's dispatch from the bowels of ice
addiction did what all those roadside marches, community town halls, drug
summits and news reports, perhaps, failed to do: dramatically drive home the
message that we have a major ice problem.

Public awareness was at an all-time high the next day. Even normally
sober-minded folk began to suspect the hyper-attentive waiter at their
favorite restaurant might be using ice; anyone with a spotless kitchen or
insomnia was suspect.

So why did fewer than a dozen people attend the joint legislative
House-Senate Task Force on Ice and Drug Abatement at the 300-seat Capitol
auditorium Sept. 27?

Perhaps word of the meeting got lost in the blitz.

But attendee Kat Brady, coordinator of the Community Alliance on Prisons,
had another explanation: The public is "iced out."

"Media tends to focus on one substance. It's like hearing about SARS and
forgetting that TB and malaria are bigger worldwide health issues," Haning
said. "If all you hear is bad news, then the human thing to do is defend
against the idea."

Are we iced out?

No, says Lee, who's already gearing up for a second ice documentary.
According to her, the tepid response is the result of a lack of leadership
more than anything psychological.

Learning Curve

So far, here's what we've learned: That ice is almost immediately addictive,
knows few socioeconomic boundaries, that efforts to interdict it have been
feeble and that it burns irreparable holes in users' brains.

You can buy most of the materials to make it at your local drugstore, so any
late night hunt for Sudafed could have clerks eyeballing you funny.

Additionally, innocent property owners could lose their property if they
rent to users.

Your best bet to help, it seems, might be to adopt an ice baby or become a
foster parent or at least write a check to Narcotics Anonymous. Treatment
may be our best hope, but a cure is illusive. Even as older addicts struggle
to get clean, new ones come on line, having a cumulative, generational
effect. We'd better pony up because we're running out of time.

"We're riding a wave that's gaining both in height and momentum," Haning

Even after all the evidence, Lee says, leaders -- including media -- remain
unconvinced, at least about the extent of the problem.

"Stop arguing about the numbers," she screamed. "Do we have to have
President Bush himself tell us we have an ice problem?"

The president never mentioned ice -- or anything else of local import, for
that matter -- during his speech at the $1,000 and $2,000 per plate shindig
at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Oct. 23.

Crack, Pot Theories

We have only ourselves to blame for ice, according to one theory.

A 1989 "Survey of H awaii's War on Drugs" quotes former Attorney General
Warren Price as predicting "The destruction of the [marijuana] industry
would create another problem: there would simply be a shift to other
competitively priced drugs."

In other words, the successful Operation Green Harvest uprooted the
marijuana supply -- and ice filled the void. That argument is still around,
and the implication is that we should bring marijuana back.

The theory also suggests that part of the population has an intrinsic need
to get high.

"That's a ridiculous argument," Haning said. "It's like saying that because
burglaries go down, murders go up."

According to Elaine Wilson of the Department of Health's division of drug
abuse, about 10 percent of Hawai'i's population -- through the 1970s, '80s,
'90s and up through the present -- chronically use some type of substance.

If ice has become the drug of choice for a consistent population of users,
then nervous agitation and sleeplessness is the new definition of "high"
instead of the old-school euphoria from alcohol, crack, heroin and

Ice coverage is back to pre-blitz levels with coverage for now, limited to
big busts and the well-publicized Tayshea Aiwohi case, the first person to
be prosecuted on a charge of manslaughter for allegedly using ice during the
last days of her pregnancy. We'll probably get another blitz when Lee's
second installment airs next year. Perhaps by then we'll have a better
understanding of the scope of the problem.

In the meantime, wax your boards, dudes, because there's a big wave coming.
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MAP posted-by: Doc-Hawk