For Councilman Rapozo, the war on drugs is personal

LIHU’E – For new County Councilmember Mel Rapozo, the island’s war on drugs is personal.

Very personal.

He has a brother who was addicted to crystal methamphetamine, a drug known on the street on Kaua’i as ice.

Rapozo told his story to members and guests of the Lihu’e Business Association at Hawai’ian Classic Desserts on Rice Street here.

Though his brother is now clean, permanent damage has been done, he said.

One of his cousins is in prison, probably for life, because of drug problems, Rapozo said candidly in front of around 30 people.

“Every family that you talk to is suffering” from impacts of ice use, said Rapozo, who is a former Kaua’i Police Department officer. He is an advocate for drug-testing for all government employees, and says he would support using drug-sniffing dogs to check for illegal substances in the island’s schools.

“It’s huge,” he said of the island’s ice problem. “It’s a problem. It’s a bad problem, and it’s worse than people think it is,” said Rapozo, adding that he favors tossing convicted drug dealers into prison without even considering offering them treatment programs.

“We gotta remove this cancer from society,” he said. ” We gotta protect our children.”

Providing treatment facilities and talking about the problem aren’t going to solve the island’s drug problem, he is convinced. “We gotta attack this at all levels.”

The war on drugs needs to be a community-wide endeavor, and the beginning Mayor Bryan Baptiste has made, bringing representatives of various entities involved in the war and planning to hire a drug coordinator, is good, Rapozo said.

“We do have an army on this island to go out and fight this war,” Rapozo said. “Support the kids. Tell them it’s OK to say ‘no.'”

He warned the audience that a new drug, perhaps even more addicting and dangerous than ice, is rumored to be on the way to Kaua’i, if it hasn’t arrived already. “Yaba” is a Thai drug in pill form that combines ice and ecstasy in equal portions.

Jay Furfaro, like Rapozo a first-term councilmember, agreed with Rapozo. Furfaro said he supports the lead Baptiste has taken in the “drug war,” and views the situation from a “loss-prevention” standpoint of trying to keep children and families safe, healthy and happy.

To stop the growth of drug use, programs including education and rehabilitation need to be implemented that can include mechanisms for measuring progress in the war, Furfaro said.

Rapozo said he was surprised by a call from a social worker at Waimea High School who said an adult man was using school students as “mules” to bring drugs into the school for distribution purposes. He said people have lost faith and confidence in the ability of the Kaua’i Police Department to control drug abuse.

If KPD Chief George Freitas says drugs are coming to the island from distant shores, then police should concentrate on interdiction efforts at the harbors and airport, Rapozo said.

If KPD officers checked incoming boats, flights, and freight companies, “we’d be surprised what we’d find,” said Rapozo.

Rapozo talked about a place he and his family used to spend a lot of time at in his younger days, a place he called his “next project.” Drug use is rampant at Hanama’ulu Beach Park. “That place is disgusting,” he said.

Staff Writer Paul C. Curtis can be reached at pcurtis@pulitzer.net or 245-3681 (ext. 224).

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