Mayor: Drug abuse is Kaua’i’s biggest problem

“The drug problem is our biggest problem and a reflection of other challenges we face,” Mayor Bryan Baptiste said at a meeting held Thursday morning to address what’s being called a drug abuse crisis on Kaua’i.

More than 60 representatives from various Kaua’i drug prevention, intervention and treatment agencies met at the Civil Defense Agency’s Emergency Operations Center to discuss actions that have-and haven’t-worked, and how to organize efforts islandwide.

Kaua’i Police Department vice officer suggested a county-wide operations plan, which includes creating a framework for organizing the dozens of different agencies working on the drug problem, and drawing up specific objectives to a general plan.

Kaua’i needs to create a strategy and know the overall framework to understand where different people and groups fit in, said councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura.

Speakers at the meeting suggested appointing a local drug czar who would work full-time on implementing the anti-drug plan and raising state and federal funds to underwrite it. They also said a lack of coordination and communication are the principal gaps between small neighborhood groups operating under private and government grants and county and state agencies involved in fighting drug abuse.

“There is a lot of territoriality in this fight,” Baptiste said. “The more I look at this, I realize I had been insulated from it for quite a while, but all you have to do is take another step to realize it affects every family on this island.”

Baptiste said that in a meeting held Wednesday in Honolulu, Gov. Linda Lingle and Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona said they would help formulate and find funding for a residential drug treatment center on Kaua’i.

Dozens of social problems can be linked to substance abuse, the drug of choice on Kaua’i being “ice” (crystal methamphetamine). These include children being raised by parents who use or sell drugs; open drug use in county parks and recreation areas; and a significant rise in crime rates.

Marilyn Wong, Kawaihau District Community Coalition community liaison, served as meeting facilitator. She divided the crisis on drugs into four areas:

– Prevention – educating people and giving them choices to do something else besides drugs;

– Intervention – enforcement agencies such as the police department, courts and child protective services;

– Treatment – includes the corrections system, counseling, health care and life skills;

– Aftercare – continuing support and wellness after a treatment program is completed.

The drug abuse prevention group agreed their overall goal was to have all kids and adults choose not to use drugs. Of the dozens of programs available around the island, most of them were labeled as “successful,” but many are still new.

While many prevention programs in the community do work, there is always room for improvement, Wong said.

The success of intervention is hard to measure, according to Police Chief George Freitas. Arrests related to drugs show success, but still many drug users aren’t arrested. Also, vice section officers estimate that about 5-10 percent of illegal drugs on the island are seized, while 95 percent of illicit drugs used are imported to the island.

Laws that take away discretion from judges are successful in curbing drug abuse, because mandatory minimum sentences and in some cases treatment is required. However, Kaua’i has no residential treatment facilities or detox centers for drug addicts.

The idea of “community policing” may work, as KPD officers are on patrol in about 5 percent of populated areas at any given time. However, people are hesitant to turn in their neighbors and families for drug abuse, and the public needs to be educated on what the police can and cannot do. The police also need better interagency communication with state and federal law enforcement agencies.

Representatives from the drug treatment community acknowledged that those running drug recovery programs are doing the best they can, but refer many clients to other services. What the group determined Kaua’i needs are a residential treatment center, a supportive living center and after-hours transportation for clients.

Retired United Methodist Church Pastor Roy “Rocky” Sasaki pointed to a shortage of resources for funding and supporting aftercare services.

“Treatment and aftercare should go hand in hand but that’s not happening,” he said.

The laws of separation of church and state in Hawai’i prevents the faith-based community from getting involved in schools and government-run facilities, but prison ministry programs and support groups run in coordination with the Kaua’i Community Correctional Center show some success, as well as requiring inmates to attend Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings, he said.

Once the Mayor’s new Community Advisory Board and Leo O Kaua’i meetings get underway, communities will be linked together, Baptiste said. He added that people need to get out of their “separate kingdoms,” and work together.

“Every day we don’t do something, we lose a child, and we’re not going to let that happen,” Baptiste said.

Staff Writer Kendyce Manguchei can be reached at kmanguchei@pulitzer.net or 245-3681 (ext. 252).

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