Cocaine busts up sharply on O'ahu
By Peter Boylan
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Peter Boylan
Cocaine arrests in Honolulu are on pace to hit a five-year high, spurred by a reaction to the rising cost of crystal methamphetamine and law enforcement pressure on ice crimes, local and federal authorities said.
Through the first four months of the year, Honolulu police made 75 cocaine arrests, compared with 135 in all of 2005 and 214 in all of 2004.
In the same time period, police made 186 methamphetamine arrests, compared with 719 in 2005 and 709 in 2004. At the current rate, methamphetamine arrests are scheduled to hit a four-year-low.
"We have determined that some crystal methamphetamine dealers are reverting to cocaine distribution due to the (federal) penalties associated with crystal methamphetamine trafficking," said Anthony D. Williams, assistant special agent in charge of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's Honolulu district office. "Cocaine has always been available in Hawai'i."
One indicator of the pressure being put on ice: The price of crystal methamphetamine in Hawai'i and California is up from last year, according to the DEA.
The street value of an ounce of ice in Hawai'i is $3,000 to $3,500, up from about $2,000 last year. The price of cocaine, meanwhile, has remained steady at $1,500 to $2,000 an ounce.
NEW 'DRUG DU JOUR'
Local police said they're seeing more cocaine activity as ice users find it harder to get the drug.
"I do know that there has been an increase in drug enforcement by District 1 patrol personnel assigned to the Chinatown area, a location known for crack cocaine dealing, and methamphetamine abusers who experience difficulty in obtaining ice have been known to switch to cocaine," said Maj. Kevin Lima, head of the Honolulu Police Department's Narcotics/Vice division who also served as a captain of the outfit for four years. "This is especially true since the price of methamphetamine has significantly increased from last year."
Police say cocaine was prevalent in Hawai'i in the 1980s and early 1990s before the rise of ice.
In the late 1990s, drug dealers began strapping methamphetamine to their bodies and boarding Honolulu-bound flights from Las Vegas, California and Asia. Others ship the drug in containers through the mail, but most of the methamphetamine and cocaine in the state comes initially from Mexico and California, according to the DEA.
"We are anticipating an increase in smuggling activities from Asia, which is being closely monitored by our agent's in Guam and Saipan," said the DEA's Williams.
Alan H. Shinn, executive director of the Coalition for a Drug Free Hawai'i, said the rising cocaine arrests coincide with information he receives from people enrolled in the coalition's programs and from informants.
"We've heard from the kids that cocaine is back in terms of a party drug," Shinn said yesterday. "We need prevention programs, especially for our youth, that are designed as versatile platforms so we can keep up with the shifting drug du jour."
Shinn said he works to develop programs that educate youth and adults about the dangers of using any drug, not just the trendy narcotic at the time.
"We can't just be stuck on one drug. Ice is always going to be the one that gets the most attention, but we can't just say ice all the time," he said. "We'll see those shifts and peaks and valleys, and who knows what it will be next?"
Regardless of the drug being abused, one resident said he's seeing activity increasing.
Lawrence Ing, a 71-year-old who was born and raised in Kalihi, said he sees people selling cocaine and methamphetamine all the time. Ing, a retiree who spends his time walking through downtown and around Kalihi, declined to cite specific street corners or parks, but said he sees drug dealing everywhere he goes.
"Before, never had nothing with drug people. Now, I see guys selling cocaine and meth," he said.
HPD's Lima said law enforcement is having an effect on the illegal drug market.
"Any assessment by law enforcement is limited to the number of arrests, the amount of drugs seized, and information provided by arrestees. As a result it is difficult to say whether the illicit drug market is struggling," Lima said. "But I do believe that a concerted effort by all Hawai'i law enforcement agencies combined with drug treatment, drug prevention, drug education /awareness and criminal incarceration of drug traffickers seems to be succeeding. I would say that we are seeing a slight decrease in the amount of methamphetamine in terms of arrests, seizures and anecdotal observations."
Arrest statistics are but one gauge of the size and scope of the cocaine and methamphetamine problem in Hawai'i.
Another indicator is the number of people entering treatment for methamphetamine and cocaine addiction, which would suggest that methamphetamine continues to be the drug of choice in Hawai'i, regardless of rising prices.
More than 3,600 adults and adolescents admitted themselves to fully paid for treatment programs for methamphetamine abuse in 2005, up from 3,265 in 2004 and 3,163 in 2003, according to state Department of Health statistics. Fewer than 1,700 people sought treatment for methamphetamine abuse seven years ago.
By comparison, 353 people sought treatment for cocaine last year, compared with 399 in 2004 and 402 in 2003.
Shinn said Hawai'i is due for a comprehensive drug use study, the last of which was conducted in 2003.
"We know nationally most substance abuse is down," he said.
The DEA's Williams said law enforcement officers can put their lives on the line every day to keep drugs out of our community but those efforts have to be balanced by education and community support.
"We should all accept responsibility for educating our children of the dangers of drug use. It is important for our children to know that it is not cool to be a drug dealer or addict," he said.
BIG ISLE ARRESTS UP
Honolulu is the second county to report rising cocaine arrests this month.
Hawai'i County police reported May 8 that they made more cocaine arrests and seized more cocaine in 2005 than they did in the past three years. Police officials there attributed the spike in cocaine arrests to the statewide emphasis on methamphetamine eradication.
In 2004, Hilo police collected 11,928 grams of ice and 110.7 grams of cocaine during 83 search warrants. But last year, they brought in 6,551.7 grams of ice and 5,592.7 grams of powdered cocaine through 90 search warrants.
In Kona, police confiscated 120.5 grams of cocaine in 2005, up from 35.4 grams in 2004.The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Reach Peter Boylan at email@example.com.