Ice still hurts our families, but treatment offers hope
By M.P. "Andy" Anderson
While some communities are still actively mobilized in efforts to decrease the impact of methamphetamine or "ice," on their families and neighborhoods, there is growing frustration that these issues raised during the town meetings that swept the state have now dropped off the radar screen.
Drug abuse among those seeking employment has increased over the past quarter, according to Diagnostic Laboratory Services, which does pre-employment drug testing for 700 local businesses. Most are ice-related, with marijuana and cocaine also reflected in the numbers.
Our prisons are overcrowded, with many offenders incarcerated for drug-related offenses. Many are in jail for testing positive in their urine analysis while on probation. Child-welfare workers report a significant percentage of cases involve ice abuse in Island homes.
Ice and other drug dependencies do not discriminate. We see people from upscale neighborhoods, such as attorneys, nurses, journalists and executives, who are employed, raising families and appear to be contributing to the community. We also see those who have lost everything because of their addictions.
But there are reason for optimism. Throughout 2004 and 2005, the money appropriated by the Legislature was released to various treatment and prevention programs in the state. These programs have evolved over the decade, and our results are some of the best in the nation. Those treatment agencies, which are licensed and nationally accredited, use scientifically proven, research-based "best practices".
The goals of treatment are to provide a full continuum of services that will reduce the severity and disabling effects of alcohol and drug dependency. Treatment programs provide a curriculum with skills building and process groups that are designed to create a change in thought processes, attitudes, values and behaviors and to promote a greater degree of personal responsibility and ability to maintain a drug-free lifestyle.
In Hawai'i, we are fortunate to have treatment programs that are licensed by the state, are nationally accredited and meet the needs of special populations, including the homeless, pregnant women and mothers, and those who have mental-health issues. Staff working in these programs have professional training and are uniquely qualified to meet the needs of the community.
While treatment options and capacity are available, the challenge for providers is having enough money to meet the needs. For state-licensed treatment agencies, the state gathers data and reports outcomes using federally defined standards. Statewide outcomes for state-funded programs in 2004 indicate that about 60 percent to 65 percent of adults who received treatment are abstinent for 30 days or more at the time of follow-up, 79.2 percent have no new arrests and 83 percent have had no hospitalization and/or emergency-room visits.
Follow-up outcomes were obtained six months after discharge from treatment. For those who are not abstinent after one treatment episode, there are follow-up treatment sessions to help participants finally achieve their goals. Similar to many other people who attempt to stop smoking, curb overeating or any other change that involves shifting behavior, a significant number of individuals suffer through multiple relapses. For alcohol and drug treatment, however, the outcomes are higher than other illnesses that require behavioral changes. Regardless of the illness — and perhaps especially true for alcohol or drug addiction — it is tragic and heartbreaking that some do not recover or have several relapses.
There are many success stories. But due to the stigma of addiction, most individuals and their families in recovery do not broadcast their success. The testimonies of those who bravely present their success stories to the public are indeed inspiring. Janice M., a former ice user whose problem drove her to loss of employment, homelessness, alienation from the ones she loved and loss of self-respect, succinctly summarized her treatment experience: "What my sobriety says about me is that I really wanted a better life. I knew if I stayed in the (treatment) program, my life would get better." Today she is 10 years clean and sober, working for the same employer for eight years, and she and her husband have recently bought a home.
With the increased funding by the state in 2004 and 2005, an additional 1,000 people were able to get treatment in 2005; and hundreds of families at risk for homelessness were helped, despite delays in getting money to treatment providers. With treatment and prevention funding of almost $8 million a year, thousands more will be able to access treatment, reunite with their families and return to their rightful place in the community.
This year's legislative session is moving forward to establish funding for a drug-treatment program in all public middle schools in the Islands. We already lead other states by having a treatment system in every public high school in the Islands, and now may see all middle schools covered by this early intervention and counseling program.
For someone to acknowledge they have a problem with drugs and/or alcohol and to seek treatment takes a considerable amount of courage.
Clearly, much more needs to be done to stave off the effects of ice abuse in our communities, but there is an indication that efforts up to this point have had positive impact.
The community of Hawai'i at large — not just the politicians and governmental officials, but each of us — needs to make a commitment to get involved in meaningful ways. The health and welfare of those living in our communities depend on it.