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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, March 6, 2004

Ralliers hope to gain support in battle against substance abuse

By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hundreds rallied at the State Capitol yesterday to build support for legislation to address drug addiction across the state and cement relationships among various organizations that have mobilized to fight the problem in Hawai'i.

From left, Kepa Lind of Hana, Maui, Derek Albios of Wai'anae and Lorilie Guillen of Makaha join the rally against ice at the Capitol. Several bills are being considered by lawmakers this year that would address different aspects of the ice epidemic.

Rebecca Breyer • The Honolulu Advertiser

Kupa'a — take a stand — was the rallying cry drawing about 300 people from across the state, including students, recovering drug addicts, church members, social agencies and government officials. More were expected for sign-waving after the rally.

The People's Rally Against Ice and Addiction is working toward a balanced approach to solving Hawai'i's drug-abuse problem that includes prevention, treatment, education and enforcement, its supporters said.

"This is a first step," said Andy Anderson, CEO of Hina Mauka, a drug and alcohol treatment provider. "We're not going to stop here."

The rally took place about a year after Kahalu'u became the first neighborhood on O'ahu to organize a community anti-drug campaign. Soon a groundswell of support spread to neighborhood after neighborhood, and state leaders took notice. Meanwhile, Neighbor Island residents were already battling the problem.

People at the rally said support continues to grow because the grassroots initiatives have a direct effect on drug use in their areas.

"More people are becoming involved," said Robyn McCarthy, with Kaua'i's Mayor's Drug Action Team. "We're seeing a slowdown of ice in the schools. There's more activities for children. There's more education in schools."

But while drugs are leaving the schools, McCarthy said parents want more drugs and that is a problem Kaua'i faces.

Residents from Palolo and Wai'anae said more people are joining efforts in their neighborhoods to deal with drug-related issues.

Karen Iwamoto, president of the Palolo Community Council, said the group is slowly forming neighborhood watch teams to combat drug-related crime. One shining example of success, Iwamoto said, is at Palolo Homes, a public housing development, which has seen a 70 percent drop in crime since it initiated its security watch program two to three years ago.

"We think that's the key to having a safer neighborhood," she said.

Kahalu'u has taken similar actions, including forming neighborhood watches and organizing community-building projects, but Keith Ryder, one of the anti-drug organizers there, said he thought momentum in the Windward community was slowing.

Still, he thought yesterday's rally would prove to be a turning point. "After today we'll see more growth, especially if the bills pass," he said.

The rally was organized to show legislators that people support bills that deal with the drug-addiction problem, especially with the drug crystal methamphetamine.

Bills designed to address different aspects of the ice epidemic, from stiffer penalties to money for programs dealing with drug education, treatment and rehabilitation, have advanced in the Legislature. More work will likely be done on the bills before a final vote is taken at the end of the session.

People at the rally said they were there to support the bills, the families that suffer and the kids who face decisions daily about whether to use drugs.

Taylor Wily, who teaches singing and dancing to Kahuku High School's We Are Samoa Club, said he and other teachers brought about 50 students because they wanted them to know the importance of communities standing together against evil.

"Because we come from a religious community, the Mormon community, people think there's nothing wrong in the community," Wily said. "But we know better than that. We've seen it with our own eyes. These kids have seen it with their eyes."

Reach Eloise Aguiar at eaguiar@honoluluadvertiser.com or 234-5266.