LIHUE — Theresa Koki, Life’s Choices Kauai coordinator, said in the past 12 years on Kauai, there have been 15 adolescent deaths due to drug addiction and suicide.
“In 2016, the surgeon general released a report that identified alcohol and drug misuse as an epidemic,” she said. “It is one of the biggest health crisis in America today.”
Families facing underage drug and alcohol abuse issues will soon have the option to seek treatment on island, instead of having to send loved ones elsewhere.
A Thursday groundbreaking for the roughly 15,000-square-foot Adolescent Treatment and Healing Center on the north end of Maalo Road was attended by about 100 people.
The $5 million center will include an eight-bedroom residential structure that may be expanded, with additional open space for recreational and agricultural healing activities.
It is scheduled to open in early 2019.
Chief Judge Randall Valenciano, Fifth Circuit Court said the judiciary is looking forward to having the facility as an option for youth, but he wanted to expand the vision, because drug abuse extends beyond youth.
“This cannot be the end product,” he said. “There needs to be a program for everyone on Kauai for drug treatment.”
Koki said groundwork for the center began in 2002 when then Mayor Bryan Baptiste created the anti-drug office. In 2003, Baptiste created a drug response plan, and in 2006 an adolescent treatment center was proposed.
“He never wavered from his desire to see Kauai youth treated on this island, supported by their families and the resources in their community,” Koki said.
The fight to see the center to fruition has been contentious at times.
Ground was broken for the facility near the salt beds in Hanapepe in 2006, but construction was halted due to what some said were negative environmental impacts the center would have in the area.
There were continued debates on where the center should be located, with some saying there shouldn’t be a residential treatment center on the island.
Koki said opposition to building a residential treatment center on Kauai remains, but fortunately, supporters of the project won the day.
“An on-island Adolescent Treatment and Healing Center would reduce the number of youth entering the juvenile system, serve as an alternative to locked facilities, and encourage community and family-based engagement,” Koki said.
For every dollar spent in treatment, Koki said it saves $7 in society.
She said the surgeon general report stated in addition to the physical and mental health effects of addiction, there is a economic impact on society, totaling around $5 billion annually.
“I guess investing the money up front would be too logical,” she said.
Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. said the center was a community effort.
“It didn’t matter if I said, if the governor said, if the president said or whoever said. It mattered how the community looked at this particular project,” Carvalho said.
It will provide “a comprehensive, collaborative, community-based, clinically-sound, and family-centered infrastructure for delivery of mental health and substance-abuse related supportive services to adolescents.”
There will be a building dedicated to community and professional treatment and support services with an attached classroom and training module.
The center will be a place for the kids to heal, the mayor added.
“Let us never forget that this is about our keiki,” Carvalho said.
The county was awarded $5 million of Capital Improvement Project funds for construction and site improvements of the center.
The 5.8 acres for the center was donated by Grove Farm Company.
“Grove Farm is committed to creating sustainable communities and we are very proud to play a small part in helping to bring a needed health service to our community,” said Dave Hinazumi, vice president of Grove Farm.
The county plans to have an experienced service provider operate the facility. The Hawaii State Department of Education will provide a part-time teacher.
Alaea Corp. is contracted with off-site infrastructure and the center’s architect is Marc Ventura A/A Construction.