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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, February 24, 2005

Fight against ice needs two-pronged approach

Police suggest the spike in the number of crystal methamphetamine arrests over the past couple of years is a positive sign in the war on ice.

There were 708 arrests in 2004, a 22 percent increase over 2003, which in turn was 32 percent more arrests than the 438 in 2002, Advertiser writer Peter Boylan reported.

But those statistics don't easily add up to a clear-cut conclusion. The numbers could indicate that tougher law enforcement and awareness are reducing the ice problem. But they also could point to the reverse — that ice use in the community is actually getting worse despite stepped-up law enforcement.

Police attribute the increase in arrests to better law enforcement. And there are good reasons to support this contention: They are spending more on better training and updated equipment; they are targeting career criminals and cooperating more with other law enforcement agencies.

But there also are signs that the ice problem is steadily growing, despite the stepped-up law enforcement efforts.

One of the most intriguing comes from the Honolulu medical examiner, Dr. Kanthi De Alwis, who not only reports a big increase in deaths obviously attributed to ice use, but also increasing numbers of deaths once thought unrelated to the drug — strokes, heart attacks and bronchial asthma cases —that are shown by blood tests to be ice-related.

Mounting numbers in social services cases ranging from homelessness to child abuse also hint at a growing problem.

In the story about ice arrest numbers is an important, and long-standing, philosophical debate over the right way to attack the ice problem:

Do we choke off the supply by ratcheting up law enforcement and focus on getting users and dealers behind bars? Or do we try to curtail demand, through education, increased community awareness and drug treatment options?

Given these statistics and other indicators, it is clear that efforts on both sides of the equation should be stepped up substantially — and urgently.