Mayor adamant that war against drugs gets organized quickly

Crisis on Drugs group gets advice from off island

Halfway through a session that went from enthusiastic to somewhat nit-picky when it came to discussion of plotting of “systemic approaches to development of plans,” Mayor Bryan Baptiste pounded his fist on the table.

“I hope that the coordinator can put all the pieces together. I need someone who will eat, sleep, whatever the crusade against this epidemic. I am not going to wait anymore. I can be criticized for it, but I’m going to take that first step. I’m going to do it,” he said.

“I could care less about bickering and arguing,” he said, “I don’t mean to get upset, but I am here doing this for the children.”

About 50 people came together for a second meeting about the “crisis on drugs,” held from 8:30 a.m. – noon Wednesday at the Civil Defense Agency’s Emergency Operating Center in Ka Hale Maka’i ‘O Kaua’i in Lihu’e.

Baptiste invited a Big Island-born, East Coast-educated attorney-turned-“drug war” coordinator to pump up four dozen overworked, odd-hours volunteers into finding solutions that could be started right away.

Bill Kenoi, executive assistant to Big Island Mayor Harry Kim, spoke about what they are doing on Hawai’i and discussed approaches that could work here. Last year, about 300 people came together on the Big Island to propose a drug program; they enlisted the help of Sen. Daniel Inouye to enter the $4 million effort.

  • Mobilize all levels of government to get everyone working together.

    The state and counties are in budget deficits – at a budget hearing this month, the state was found to be $315 million “in the hole.” People in different groups can work together with limited funding, he said.

  • Get communities involved.

    When people approach government to come up with solutions, “task them, task everyone,” he challenged. Kenoi posed the questions: “What are you doing as a community, as a family? Are you promoting a healthy, substance-free household?”

  • Get every sector in the community on board.

    Every sector of the community is affected by drug use, he said. Businesses are affected when they can’t find qualified workers, workers don’t show up or there’s use and violence in the workplace. The faith community is already involved with youth ministries and church activities. Schools can take control of prevention education.

    Kaua’i needs more than one program, because what works for one person might not work for someone else. It starts with hope, but not false hopes, Kenoi offered. “If people get chance that tomorrow goin’ be better than today, they goin’ try.”

    Though Kenoi’s suggestions made a lot of people nod and hum in agreement, the question remains: What can we do now to make a difference?

Again, Baptiste was challenged to name a “drug crisis coordinator,” someone who will devote their time to handling funding, setting up meetings with facilitators and referring the public to programs in each community on the island.

Mardi Maione, a certified substance abuse counselor and chair of the Kaua’i Drug Free Coalition, named the coalition’s successes and their short-term and long-term goals.

Maione has approached Sen. Gary Hooser with a budget proposal to fund the coordinator position for one year. On behalf of the coalition, she wants the county to adopt a public health addiction policy. In her “perfect world scenario,” Kaua’i would have a community center in each district where people could receive drug treatment, take parenting classes and life skills training.

The federal government likes to see the private sector and government working collaboratively, and could be more likely to fund such projects, she said, adding that Kaua’i meets several criteria for funding, in terms of population, rural living and demographics.

Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura made her concerns known.

“What’s really missing is a plan to coordinate,” she said. “What is our end in mind? I don’t see an islandwide plan that shows how we all fit in.”

Baptiste explained that he simply doesn’t have the time to focus on the drug crisis full-time. “If I had the time to do itI could do it,” he said.

“While we’re doing a thousand strategic plans, another kid gets lost to this,” Baptiste said.

“There’s long range plans, but there’s also something we can do today,” Baptiste said, challenging the group.

Kaua’i Police Department Vice Section Sgt. Dan Abadilla discussed his organizational plan that includes demand reduction, enforcement, treatment and integration. Abadilla suggested that representatives from each group elect a team leader, who will also serve on a committee to select the coordinator.

Whether the “continuum of care” is made up of prevention, intervention, treatment and after-care; or the police model of demand reduction, enforcement, treatment and integration, most everyone agreed that a county-wide plan for clearly defining terms and reaching the goal(s) in mind needs to be developed.

After a break-out session with the various groups, those chosen are multi-taskers who are in most cases, involved with more than one community project: Demand reduction, Jimmy Trujillo; Robin McCarthy; treatment, Alton Amimoto; aftercare, Annette Creamer; and integration, Dely Sasaki.

Baptiste said the group would discuss criteria and call for applications. They haven’t yet figured out exactly how the coordinator will work with the county.

He also mentioned the Leo O Kaua’i community meetings that will start in early March, where people will be able to voice their issues and solutions on the drug crisis and any related issues.

It was announced that state Public Safety Narcotics Enforcement Supervising Investigator Ed Howard will be on Kaua’i later this month to present the Weed and Seed “community building” program in partnership with the KPD. The Boys and Girls Club’s Kapa’a and Waimea Clubhouses are also planning public meetings with a focus on preventing drug abuse, tentatively scheduled for March. And the state Department of Education has invited 300 high school students to take part in an anti-drug leadership conference scheduled for April.

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

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