Pubdate: Wed, 21 May 2003
Source: Honolulu Weekly (HI)
Contact:  2003 Honolulu Weekly Inc
Author: Ric Valdez 
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)
Note: To read more about the "ice epidemic" in Hawaii, go to .


Hawai'I Is Tweakervile USA ... And It Ain't Pretty.

It doesn't take a brain surgeon to recognize a tweaker...  the young Kona
man says sarcastically from behind the counter at the tourist information
booth on Ali'i Drive. The info guy is right: Any quack with half a clue
could see that the half-dozen men and women huddled together in the shaded
square across from the Hulihe'e Palace were crystal meth users. 

A teenage girl in a baseball cap asks for change while her boyfriend chews
on a menthol and picks away at the skin on his forearm. Beaver Boy is
full-blown: Off to the side and shirtless in soiled pants, he's coated in a
general state of bad health and unrest, like the scabs over his torso and
sweat on his back.

The tweaking stage occurs when a meth user hasn't slept for days, and the
irritability, frustration, anxiety and restlessness become a fever. Never
sneak up on a tweaker, someone told me. I get Beaver Boy's attention first
by petting Princess, his pit bull at the end of a leash.

To glimpse a soul frozen by ice, you need only search the eyes. Beaver Boy's
are huge, like manhole covers, swelled with fluid and vacant. His face
resembles a cowering child's in a Margaret Keane painting. I say "Hi." 

"What do you want?" he asks.

"Meth," I say ineptly, like a first-time john.

"No problem." My afflicted procurer grins, pleased to have a purpose.

"Be here in 30 minutes …" he says, dragging Princess behind him. 

The drug is as easy to make as it is to buy. The recipe can be found online,
and all the listed ingredients -- cold and allergy medicines, rubbing
alcohol, brake cleaner, engine starter, drain cleaner, lawn fertilizer, lye,
matches, kerosene, paint thinner -- to cook up a batch of low-grade bathtub
crank (or high-quality rocket fuel) can be purchased over the counter at any

Rock, ice, crystal, shabu, crank, whatever nickname you give to
methamphetamine, the colorless, odorless deliriant is now a nationwide
epidemic. That this lethal and insidious substance vexes America's inner
cities is no surprise, but methamphetamine has hit America's suburbs, rural
and agrarian communities even harder.

In the land of aloha, it's worse: Hawai'i has the highest rate in the nation
of adults who've tried ice. In Honolulu, 39 percent of all arrestees test
positive for ice; the next biggest number in a major American city is
Sacramento, at 29 percent. According to the National Drug Intelligence
Center's 2003 drug threat assessment for Hawai'i, "Crystal methamphetamine
abuse will continue to represent the most significant drug threat to

Ali'i Drive on the Kona waterfront is bustling with activity on this
Saturday morning. A craft fair is underway across from the Kona Bay Hotel;
triathletes train for the Ironman. Seniors sell jams and jellies from card
tables, while beachgoers laze at Kahalu'u Beach Park and surfers work the
little northwest swell wrapping into the bay. 

Inside the Hale Halawai Beach Pavilion, over 50 people from around the state
are gathered for the 15th annual Narcotics Anonymous Regional Learning Day.
The diverse NA crowd is composed of addicts in recovery. They meet to
discuss guidelines for practical approaches to recovery; they want to figure
out how to stop using drugs and face their daily lives drug-free. (Even so,
a kid in the bathroom wants to buy some pot.) 

"My name is Juanita and I'm an addict," Juanita says when she introduces
herself to a stranger. In her 40s, Juanita's been off ice for six months.

"Any drug can destroy you … crystal meth makes you put everything else aside
for it," she explains. "You lose your friends and family. You lose your
mind. It takes everything from you." 

Juanita confesses that when her husband, also an addict and suffering from
terminal cancer, took his last breath, she wasn't there. She was, she says,
huddled in her closet, sucking on a glass pipe.

"The only thought I had was, I need more ice. I emptied his pockets and got
him out of there. 

"You know, a dog died last week, and I had more emotion over that dead dog
than when my husband died. I was sobbing, because I mourned over a dog, but
I couldn't be there for another human being."

John, in his early 30s, looks like he just rolled out of bed. He's a
second-generation ice addict.

"I knew I was an addict, but I felt it wasn't a problem, because I never had
gotten in trouble with the law," John tells me.

While the majority of people get off on the speedy rush, John says he
preferred the effects caused by long-term sleep deprivation. Up to three
weeks' worth. He says he was four years clean before he could once again
identify the sensation of hunger. 

With fiery red hair, Susan is outgoing and robust. Born and raised on O'ahu,
she admits she had a privileged childhood. Susan doesn't fit the usual
tweaker profile: She's articulate, educated, neat.

"But that's kind of the ruse … like having a new coat of paint on a house
that has dry rot," she says. From Kahala Avenue to the park bench, ice is an
equal-opportunity addiction.

Initially, addicts say, ice's appeal is as a cheap wonder drug, a kind of
supercaffeine that makes a person feel -- and actually be -- more
productive, at least for a while. A few episodes of stellar productivity and
you're hooked. 

Susan quotes a line from the NA handbook: "'Social acceptability does not
equal recovery.' I can think, like, 'Gosh, I don't have a problem! I haven't
lost my job, I still have my house, and I still pay my mortgage on time. …
Yet,'" she says, pausing for emphasis, "'I'm dying inside.'"

She explains how certain personalities are more prone to ice addiction. 

"So, if you're a type-A personality, it's like, Wow! All of a sudden you're

Susan says she got hooked while working for a publicity agency in Hollywood.
"It's midnight, and look at this, I'm still working and everyone else is

"It starts that way, so you just think 'Oh my God, this is the best!'"

After six years of keeping up appearances as a professional/addict, Susan
began to suffer grand mal seizures. Her doctor warned that she would
eventually have a stroke. Susan credits her move home to Hawai'i for saving
her life. Now, she teaches high school on the Big Island's eastside -- and
attends NA meetings religiously.

"I don't know what kind of damage I've done to my heart," she says, "but my
nervous system has taken a huge amount of damage. That's what I talk to
at-risk students about -- the damage ice actually does to your body."

Ephedrine, found in most nonprescription cold drugs, is the key ingredient
of meth. ("Meth" is the overall term. "Crystal" and "ice" are meth in
crystallized form; "crank" is powdered.) The solvents that meth-cooks use to
distill ephedrine during the meth-making process, can literally gouge out
the brain. The brain suffers permanent damage after just two weeks of
regular use. Meth inhibits the production of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine
is a neurotransmitter that controls the body's movements and emotions. In
simple terms, the brain doesn't function properly without dopamine, and the
user descends into extreme depression. Memory loss, paranoia and violent
behavior occur with increasing frequency. 

Near the end of the long day at Hale Halawai Beach Pavilion, a five-actor
theater troupe performs a 30-minute play called Breaking the Ice. The play
is as cautionary as Scared Straight; the actors are meth addicts in
recovery. Formed six months ago, the troupe visits schools around the Big

Stats about the ice epidemic might be alarming, but it is the intimate
details that sink in: "Me and by boyfriend abandoned our two children," the
actors recite. "I started out as a raver" … "I loved my gangsta image" …
"Big Island agencies report 95 percent of child abuse cases involve ice. … " 

When it comes to meth, tweakers are punctual. Exactly 30 minutes after he
departs, Beaver Boy returns to the square on Ali'i Drive and introduces me
to his friend, Mystic. Short, with a bushy mushroom-shaped do, Mystic is too
young to buy beer. There on the square, he shouts, laughs and mumbles to
himself, then comes back to Planet Earth. On his right hand a homemade
"Irie" tattoo is misspelled and scratched out. He cannot hold still. His
eyebrows wriggle like caterpillars, his brow furrows -- involuntary
expressions that don't mean a goddamn thing. 

I follow Mystic on a zigzag route up Ali'i Drive. He constantly looks over
his shoulder. His hands wring a red bandana. After he borrows the phone at
an arcade, he tells me he's going to propose to his girlfriend.

I ask, "Will you get down on one knee?" 

"I'll get down on all fours!" he declares, smiling and revealing, for a
second, the young man alive inside. 

Picturesque Waimea surpasses any glossy image on a postcard. Who would
suspect that the meth epidemic flourishes here? Originally from Wai'anae,
George Roldan has lived in Waimea for three years and says that the rural
district ranks as one of the most meth-infested areas in the state.

Roldan began using meth as a teenager in 1984. In the peak of his addiction,
he says he attempted suicide, but the noose broke. Five years clean, the
big, 250-pound man shares his life like an open book. He's lived, he says, a
thug's life; he watched 13-year-old girls give themselves away for meth.
He's watched as friends succumb to malnutrition and dehydration. He's seen
buddies overdose, and witnessed cardiac arrests, brain hemorrhages. 

Roldan's story about his first taste of meth is not an uncommon tale. "I
didn't even like it," he says. "Da 'ting not getting me high … but I stayed
up all the way to the next day. My reflexes seemed quicker. I felt I could
do more things. The euphoric high was incredible. I felt all-powerful." 

He demonstrates with clenched fists and trembles like the Incredible Hulk.

Ephedrine taken in large doses injects the nervous system with a swift burst
of adrenaline. In the early stages meth is a powerful aphrodisiac, but with
continual use through weeks or months, the brain's appetite for stimulation
diminishes, and eventually the male becomes incapable of arousal.

"Ice boosted my sex drive; it drove me crazy." In the process, Roldan says,
he acquired an STD and passed it to his wife. 

Statistics show that tolerance levels for meth can increase a hundred fold
in only a year. Roldan's appetite for the rocket fuel became insatiable,
and, at the peak of his addiction, he says he smoked, snorted and
speedballed $12,000 worth in a month. 

"I never slept for two weeks. I never like go down. Because I knew it would
be for a couple of days."

After he lost his day jobs, scoring became Roldan's vocation. 

"In addiction," he says, "it's all about me getting my next fix. If that
means I have to rob you, your family -- my family -- I would."

His storytelling is almost over, but he must tell me when he hit bottom and
began his recovery: "We went in this guy's house with guns to steal his dope
…my babies were 2 and 4 … I brought 'em with me and just left them in the
back seat. … Jus' babies, and I took 'em." 

Crumb, one of the addicts Roldan sponsors in NA, pulls up in his truck. From
a respected Big Island family, Crumb, 44, has been clean for two years. He
tells how he's watched as Waimea became ground zero for meth. 

"Waimea is definitely not the same town I grew up in during the '60s and
'70s," Crumb says. "It was a nice, slow town. You couldn't go to the store
or post office without seeing someone you knew or were related to." As far
as recreational drugs went, alcohol and marijuana were the norm. 

Crumb remembers the early '80s, Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No" campaign and
Operation Green Harvest. That was when he first encountered the colorless,
glassy bits that you smoked in a glass pipe. 

"Before, we grew weed in our yards," Crumb says, shaking his head at those
more innocent, greener times, "and it was nothing. The authorities hardly
cared. You'd get monstrous bags of killer buds for 20 bucks. 

"Then pakalolo got scarce," Crumb remembers. "Cocaine and heroin were
around, but those were for rich people, and the guys couldn't get weed. Ice
was cheap so they just started doing ice instead. I don't understand the
connection. One is not a substitute for the other, but that's how people
were using it."

Roldan jumps back in: "It's common in local families, at weekend parties,
for fathers, uncles and grandmas to spend the whole weekend from Friday
afternoon to Monday morning partying," he says. "Just drinking and smoking

"When you have that sort of lifestyle where it's so familiar, and you
introduce something like ice," Crumb points out, "well, it's like throwing a
match into a powder keg. Meth by nature makes people psychotic … combine it
with this lifestyle of accepted, stay-home parties … and everybody parties …
you get one whole community that's just gone psycho."

Dr. Kevin Kunz is an addiction specialist with a master's degree in public
health who has been practicing medicine in Kona for 22 years. He says there
is no medication for treating ice addiction. 

"The three great scourges to mankind are poverty, war and disease, and this
is a disease that is as bad as any we will see for a long time," the doctor

"Ice has deeply infected the adolescent population in Hawai'i. This problem
is long-term and deeply imbedded in our community. It will take time to

According to Kunz, the Big Island needs an adolescent residential treatment
center where young addicts can be housed for up to six months and receive
adequate treatment. 

"I see five new methamphetamine-addicted people a week. I've seen no
letdown, nor do I know of anyone who thinks the problem is calming down. If
anything, it's getting stronger." 

Addicts are generally too sick to walk into a 12-step program willingly,
Kunz says. 

"In the deluded mind of a meth addict, life is fine -- they don't need help.

"So, what do we need to do now? We need coercion," Kunz says, "implemented
by the families. Child Protective Services that takes the children away; a
spouse who says it's over; or the court issuing an ultimatum."

But he doesn't like jails: "Drug treatment is cheaper for us as a society,"
he says, "and it's more efficacious. Jail seldom cures an addict of

Kunz attended the Hawai'i Island Methamphetamine Summit held in the Waikoloa
resort on the Big Island last August. The federal Drug Enforcement Agency
and the National Crime Prevention Council, the summit's two sponsors,
assured attendees that dramatic change would come, just as it did to other
Mainland locales where similar summits have been held. By then, it had been
announced that Hawai'i County was getting $4 million in federal funds to
deal with ice. 

"I think it was a wonderful start, to have Mayor Kim generate this interest,
to have law enforcement and Senator Inouye come, to have participation by
virtually every segment of our community that cares about this problem,"
says Kunz.

"A Band-Aid situation" is how Police Lieutenant Bob Hickox describes the Big
Island's efforts, so far, to fight its meth infection. Hickox heads the vice
task force for Area Two on the west, or Kona, side of Hawai'i County. His
task force of six -- two detectives, three patrolmen, one canine handler and
himself -- police approximately 4,000 square miles of West Hawai'i, from
Waimea to Ka'u. 

Arrests for meth distribution on the Big Island have increased 431 percent
between 1997 and 2003; Hickox's unit now spends 95 percent of its workday on
meth cases. 

"By July we should be getting three more officers," Hickox reports,
explaining where some of the federal funds are going. "We'll be able to do
more in-depth investigations into the people bringing in the drugs." 

I ask Hickox if the meth crisis is being used as a pretext for heightened
law enforcement or to profile certain individuals. 

"No, the crystal meth problem has not given us any advantage in any way," he

As a father of two, Lt. Hickox's advice to parents is: "Do you know where
your kids are? We buy our children cars … they come home late, raves, beach,
mountains … parents have to police their own kids." 

Mystic flags down a battered Benz. We jump in. The driver is in his 50s. His
radar for police is on, but he's oblivious to the near-head-on collision he
barely avoids as he turns left through an intersection.

We pull into McDonald's and park next to a dumpster. Satisfied I'm not a
narc, the driver whips out a plastic dental floss container from his sock.
He withdraws a gram of crystallized meth in a plastic bag and passes it to
Mystic. With surprising efficiency, Mystic presses down on the crystals
through the yellow plastic with the butt of his lighter, pulverizing it. He
transfers the granules into a stamp-sized Ziploc with the spoon end of a red
Slurpee straw. This seemingly puny, 30-dollar bag is more than enough for 30
hours of rev. Mystic loads the pipe, assuring me this is the fusion. 

"The fusion?" I ask as he melts and vaporizes the ice. 

Removing the glass pipe from his lips, Mystic hisses, "Dat's da one!" He
demonstrates the potency of the hit in a sequence of funhouse poses and a
jumble of animal noises. Like an excruciating orgasm or riding the
lightning, Mystic's jaw tightens. He raises his hands; he's entranced by his
outstretched fingers. A spit and a hiss squeeze out through a gap in his
clenched teeth. His brain fries a little more, and he lets loose an enormous
"Aaaarggghhhh!" like a little beast on all fours.

- -------------------------------------------------

The Price Of Ice

Meth kills. Chronic users age prematurely, their teeth rot, their brains
rot; heart damage and psychosis are both inevitable. "Maintenance
users" claim they use ice to keep up with two jobs. Others say
they're "not hurting anyone" with their recreational use. The truth is,
if it takes five months or five years, ice will bring them down

For nearly a decade, Hawai'i residents have led the nation in ice
use. At least 12 percent have tried ice, representing about 150,000
people, from every social and economic class. Child Protective
Services says elderly abuse is often attributable to ice use.
Honolulu's medical examiner finds that in just five years the number
of ice -related deaths has more than doubled. Youth suicides are
increasing, and they're most often ice related.

Meth is Hawai'i's unpaid bill. It comes due in state-funded
programs, agencies and departments, stressed to the limit by
meth-related crises. It's due in hospitals and clinics, jails and court
rooms, homes and schools -- and in some of our most precious lands,
beaches, parks, and rainforests where, every day, clandestine drug
cookers dispose of their poisonous byproducts. 
- --Edgy Lee

Filmmaker Edgy Lee is currently preparing a 30-minute documentary
special about Hawai'i's ice epidemic. In an unprecedented show of
community concern, seven local TV stations have agreed to air the
doc simultaneously this fall. Fundraising for the film is ongoing. For
more information, call 585-9005 ext. 1.

- ------------------------------------------------------------

Got A Friend Or A Relative On Ice? 

Are You A User? 

692-7506. For information and referrals regarding alcohol and drug treatment
services statewide.

671-6900. Kane'ohe Clinic, 236-2600. Adult and adolescent residential, day,
intensive outpatient and outpatient treatment. Outpatient treatment programs
also available on select intermediate and high school campuses.

day, intensive outpatient and outpatient treatment; residential
detoxification; adult substance abuse treatment for ex-offenders.

SALVATION ARMY FAMILY TREATMENT SERVICES 732-2802, ext. 252. Residential and
outpatient treatment for pregnant women and their children, outreach
services for victims of domestic violence and substance abuse, therapeutic
living programs for women in early recovery and their children.

program offers free outpatient drug counseling and experimental medication
for research.
- ---
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