There is an enemy working behind the scenes on Kaua‘i, one that can be found in homes and businesses, beaches and parks across the island. The enemy affects families, workplace productivity, public safety and personal health. The culprit is drugs — illegal drugs and also the abuse of drugs more commonly available, like alcohol and prescription drugs.
Until five years ago, I didn’t give this enemy much thought. But in 2003, at the direction of Kaua‘i Planning & Action Alliance’s membership, I began working with Mayor Bryan Baptiste and the committees he formed to combat the island’s drug problem.
At that time we were still trying to define the problem our island faced and what needed to be done. But everyone agreed drugs were a growing problem, with crystal methamphetamine, or ice, as the biggest threat. Working with the mayor’s committees, KPAA wrote the first drug plan for the island — and the first in the state — to guide our community toward actions to mitigate the problem. It was called the Kaua‘i Community Drug Response Plan 2004-09.
The plan recognized that there are many underlying factors that may lead to substance abuse. A poor economy, low wages, overcrowded housing, lack of education and a sense of hopelessness may contribute to the problem and also need to be addressed.
Over the past five years, the committees — which address prevention, treatment, integration and law enforcement — have met monthly to stay focused on the issues, discuss actions being taken, challenges encountered and what still needs to be done. Dozens of organizations and churches have been involved. They have initiated new programs and services and reached out to those needing help. The mayor appointed an anti-drug coordinator — first Roy Nishida and then Theresa Koki, who currently holds the position.
But what has been achieved? Hundreds of youth across the island are involved in activities designed to promote a drug-free life — through mentoring and leadership programs, sports clinics, life skills training and more. About 1,600 adults and youth receive some level of drug abuse treatment each year, and the number of available programs has expanded. In the past year, more than 100 parents completed Parent Project classes to help them learn how to set limits and deal more effectively with difficult or out of control children.
Clean and sober homes, with a total of 30 beds, have been created, offering safe, drug-free living environments for men or women and their children. Laws have been strengthened and there has been an increased emphasis on enforcement. Law enforcement agencies are now working more effectively together. As an example of these efforts, in 2007 the Kaua‘i Police Department seized about 35,000 grams of methamphetamine and marijuana. A more complete report on the results of the past year’s efforts are contained in the Kaua‘i Community Drug Response Plan 2004-2009 2007-2008 Progress Report just completed by KPAA.
As reported at the Drug Summit held Tuesday, much has been accomplished but there is much more to be done. Kaua‘i has gaps in its services that need to be filled. Adequate funding for programs is a constant worry and needs to be resolved. Efforts need to be directed toward the programs proven to be effective to ensure we get the best results for the dollars spent. Those seeking help deserve no less.
Building on lessons from the past five years and looking ahead to future needs, a new drug plan has been created. The Kaua‘i Community Drug Response Plan 2008-13 contains strategies needed to help our youth and adults resist drugs and assist those who are substance abusers. It sets a clear direction on what needs to be done in the next three years and who will do it.
The plan was developed over eight months with the help of about 70 people working on seven committees covering every region of the island. Through it, organizations and groups have assumed responsibility for tackling pieces of the work that needs to be done. It includes a management system to ensure that efforts are coordinated, evaluated and reported. Community outreach is a priority of the plan to ensure that residents are informed of progress and to request their support and assistance.
So how can the community help? Your support is needed to assist those who are implementing the drug plan, whether through your financial support, donation of resources or as a volunteer. Be a positive role model for youth and help them see a future of hope and opportunity. Be an advocate for treatment and integration programs that help people gain healthier lives. And, if you are a parent or caregiver for young people, give them the guidance, love and support they will need to make good decisions for themselves. With all of these things, we will be building a drug-free Kaua‘i.
Copies of the new drug plan and the progress report for 2007-2008 are available on the KPAA Web site, www.kauainetwork.org
They will soon be available on the county Web site, www.kauai.gov
• Diane Zachary is president and CEO of Kaua‘i Planning & Action Alliance. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org