In Our Voices for Sunday — February 26, 2006

Let’s look at drugs another way

It’s a tough progression for any community to make in determining how to deal with drug addiction. Should the community treat it as a crime or a social problem?

With the development of a youth drug treatment facility in Hanapepe, the island seems ready to depart the view that the only option is punishment.

The use of illegal narcotics is, without doubt, a crime. To possess illegal drugs, traffic in them or have the paraphernalia for their use will get anyone into legal trouble.

Police officers are tasked with enforcing the laws, and the laws say that certain substances are not allowed. Once the user is charged with a drug crime and brought into the legal system, how should the addict be treated?

There are two schools of thought on this. One is “tough love” — to let them reap what they sow.

The other, which is increasingly being accepted in courts across the country, are alternative sentencings for drug offenders and special drug courts.

Often, in those places, there is an infrastructure in place to assist offenders. Here on Kaua’i, the only option is “three hots and a cot” for so many months or years in prison.

There is a saying in the mainly nonprofit recovery business: “We are in the demand reduction business.” Whereas law enforcement looks to cut the supply of drugs, those who run recovery programs seek to reduce the demand.

The manner in which demand is cut varies greatly from place to place. But, for the sake of simplicity, recovery can be broken down into four areas, or modes. There are detoxification facilities that will allow a controlled environment for the toxins to be removed from the addict’s system. These facilities are often the first place the most severely addicted find themselves, if not in a jail cell. Detox is where withdrawals occur, and gives the first real indication of what a difficult road it is to recovery.

Many addicts will never reach the level of needing a detox, though their struggle will be no less taxing.

The next mode of recovery is a rehabilitation facility. This is most often a live in facility that is controlled and secured to keep the addict away from the various temptations that landed them there in the first place. Usually a person will stay around 90 days in a rehab.

The next mode is a transition home. This is where an addict gets a little more freedom to assimilate back into the community. They can hold jobs and go places on their own, but still have a structured environment in which to live and deal with recovery issues.

The last mode is outpatient care. That is the level where the addict is completely self sustaining, but has a network of services to assist with the daily struggle of staying off drugs. The addict will live on his or her own, but will utilize outpatient care to learn how to manage free time.

Others, though very few, have the ability to get past their addiction problem on their own.

When convicted drug offenders leave the legal or prison system, they face an even tougher time if they intend to get off drugs. The double stigma of being an ex-convict and an addict follows them wherever they go. That is one of the reasons drug and alcohol related recidivism has the highest rate in the nation. Going back on the “stuff” is often the easier path to take. Often the crime that landed them in prison in the first place was directly related to their drug use.

That is the main reason it is so important to have a network of recovery in place in any community that desires to meet addiction problems head on, in a progressive manner. Any community can continue to throw its addicts into prison, but a truly caring community will take the time to understand the nature of the problem and offer rehabilitation alongside punishment.

Who knows what effect treatment facilities would have on Kaua’i’s ice problem?

The police will continue in their efforts to reduce the supply. But if we as a community demand it less, there will be less supply.

Police department officials say that the island currently lacks the large ice labs that supply enough product for dealing. Kaua’i’s ice is currently all imported. That is a positive sign that the problem has not reached a certain level.

But it is not an excuse to rest on our laurels. The Adolescent Residential Substance Abuse Treatment Facility being developed in Hanapepe is a positive sign that we are moving in the right direction.

Kaua’i judges are also exploring alternative sentencings for drug offenders. Some offenders have been required to post fliers showing photos before drug use was a problem, and what it had done to them after being charged.

The facility in Hanapepe — the first of its kind on the island — will be a rehabilitation facility for 18 persons, ages 12 to 18. That the facility will allow children as young as 12 is an indication of just how serious a problem addiction has become.

Strong families may go a long way in limiting the scope of addiction, but family ties do not offer a cure. There are plenty of strong families on the island with members in legal trouble over drugs. And there are those who fall through the cracks in every kind of support system, as evidenced by the overcrowded Kaua’i Community Correctional Center in Wailua.

The larger ohana of the community has the ability to act in a more structured way to help keep the problem under control. We just need the services.


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the TERMS OF SERVICE. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. To report comments that you believe do not follow our guidelines, send us an email.