Big Island alarmed by spread of 'ice'
By Hugh Clark
Advertiser Big Island Bureau
WAIKOLOA, Hawai'i With an alarming rise in crystal methamphetamine arrests and a host of related ills, the Big Island was a likely choice as host of yesterday's "Ice Summit," which brought together high-level federal, state and county officials and other community members to discuss what can be done about the problem.
Event coordinator Billy Kanoi, a former Honolulu public defender who was hired by Big Island Mayor Harry Kim to lead the county's attack on the highly addictive drug commonly known as ice, told the standing-room-only gathering of 300 at the Outrigger Waikoloa Resort that he wanted to help save a generation of children from "the worst drug plague" to hit the Islands.
Charts presented by several speakers yesterday spoke a similar message: The Big Island leads the state in ice trafficking and use.
Kim said crystal methamphetamine has led many Big Islanders to squander the legacy and sacrifices of generations of immigrants who labored for a better future for their children and grandchildren.
Acting Police Chief Lawrence Mahuna gave figures showing a 10-fold increase in crystal methamphetamine arrests on the Big Island from 1998 to 2000 from 28 to 282. The drug's reach extends even to middle schools, he said.
"The collateral crimes of burglary, robbery and theft" also are increasing, Mahuna said.
Asa Hutchinson, a former Arkansas congressman who heads the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, said ice has become a "No. 1 drug problem in rural America," largely because it is cheap and easily produced in home labs using over-the-counter medications and readily available ingredients.
Officials said much of the ice used in Hawai'i comes from Mexico via Las Vegas or Los Angeles.
U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye said in his remarks that he was amazed to learn that 300 who had wanted to attend the summit had been turned away because of space limitations.
Also present was Dr. Wesley Clark, director of the National Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. The former San Francisco physician said treatment is an important part of the solution.
"We can't arrest our way out of this problem," Clark said, urging Big Islanders to acknowledge the crisis and support prevention and treatment programs. One way to do that, he said, is to accept drug treatment centers proposed in their neighborhoods.
He said he had learned on a visit to Hilo of a lack of resources for those seeking treatment, including transportation and treatment centers.
"Even literacy is a part of this problem," Clark said.
He called yesterday's summit, one of four to be held nationally, "a required wakeup call."
Clark said he was inspired by the broad-based participation in the summit, which brought together nearly every judge on the island, prosecutors and defense attorneys, educators and social workers.
During lunch, a South Kohala carpenter told reporters of his five-year struggle as a recovering ice user and how his addiction tore his family apart.
"There is life after ice," said George Roldan, who leads a support group called Waimea Men in Recovery, who meet weekly to help one another stay drug-free and "to begin paying back to our community."
Clark said it was important for people to come forward and share their successes, so others addicted to crystal methamphetamine will see there's a way out.
The Ice Summit will be followed by 18 months of work preparing a list of priorities based on yesterday's sessions and developing a plan of action.