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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, February 12, 2006

Prevention and care crucial in war on ice

Ice — crystal methamphetamine — is a scourge of nearly glacial proportions that will require a sustained assault on multiple fronts to shrink to manageable levels.

So it's heartening to see our elected leaders grappling with the problem, both by narrowing some gaps in efforts to reach those already addicted and by mounting an aggressive prevention campaign.

In addition to the catastrophic health effects — heart and brain damage topping the list — ice is the catalyst for family breakdown and all the community ills that result. It's a social disease that drives the crime rate skyward, too. A 2002 survey of arrests in Honolulu found that nearly 45 percent of men arrested in Honolulu tested positive for ice, compared with just over 38 percent the previous year.

Such statistics have rightly compelled lawmakers to focus attention on treatment— both within prison walls and in the community— to break the cycle of crime and misery for as many people as possible.

Several individual initiatives moving through the Legislature deserve support. These include programs that allow medical professionals to direct patients to drug treatment at key intervention points.

One effort, contained in the companion bills SB 2132 and HB 2045, would route pregnant addicts directly to drug treatment through their schedule of prenatal care appointments. Similarly, the twin measures SB 2364 and HB 2401 would pick up abusers of the drug through emergency-room trauma cases.

Some of the state's capital improvement budget will be invested wisely in residential treatment facilities aimed at the prison population as well as the broader community. Separating addicts from the environment that supports the habit is seen as the wisest course, and improved models of treatment for ice and other stimulants are being refined.

But long-term success requires multiple rounds of treatment that carry a mammoth pricetag. Surely this reinforces the wisdom of a focus on prevention.

Among the most promising initiatives this year is a major expansion of campus drug prevention programs at the middle-school level. Experts in this form of outreach report that a newer approach that is more interactive and less preachey, giving kids the tools they need to avoid drugs, should prove more effective.

The war on ice wisely targets the criminal supply side, but it's crucial that Hawai'i offers a way out for those who otherwise could be enslaved by drugs.