Ice, crank, crystal, chalk, tina, batu — whatever you call it, methamphetamine is destroying Molokai and we need to join together to fight this scourge.
This was the message from the Hawaii Meth Project when the non-profit group came to Molokai for a community forum at the Kulana ‘Oiwi halau last night. Earlier in the day the group addressed about 300 students at Molokai High School to spread its message of meth prevention.
Molokai is not the only island troubled by the problem’s associated with this drug. Hawaii is the number-two state in the country for abuse of meth, behind only California. Ninety percent of the federal drug cases in Hawaii involve meth, which leads to an estimated $500 million a year in loss to our economy, according to figures from the Project.
Although the Drug Enforcement Agency has not identified any methamphetamine laboratories in Hawaii, the drug flows easily through the state. Among Hawaiian teenagers, 19 percent said they could easily obtain the drug. Another 9 percent of teens have been offered the drug and another 9 percent known a current user.
Georgianna DeCosta, senior program manager for the Hawaii Meth Project, shared key facts and information at the community forum. Presented in partnership with Maui Police Department’s Juvenile Division, I Ola Ka Piko and Alu Like, the program showed the clear impacts of this evil drug on the body, brain and family.
Television and radio public service announcements made the message even more dramatic. Hearing the voices of teenagers is a key way to get the message across to our youth. The story of Rochelle, who started smoking meth at age 16 and is struggling with addiction at 19, is powerful. Rochelle said that even though she knew she was losing everything she still wanted to get high.
It was testimony such as this that helps communicate the danger and the strength of meth addiction. A video showed how the drug works on a physiological level. When it hits the brain, meth forces the dopamine neurotransmitters into the brain’s pleasure center to create a powerful high for the first time user. After that, the amount of available dopamine is reduced in the brain, making it more difficult to duplicate the feeling and forcing the user to take greater amounts of the drug as they “chase” the high.
Because meth can be so powerfully addictive, even after just one use, the Hawaii Meth Project has a simple message: “Not even once.”
“We have got to get this message to the next generation, that’s what we’re working on,” said DeCosta.
To help raise awareness among our teenagers, The Hawaii Meth Project emphasizes peer-to-peer counseling. On Molokai, Hope Will leads the student advisory council on meth at the high school to help her peers.
A former user and dealer of meth, Brent Nakihei grew up on Molokai surrounded by the drug culture that was prevalent here in the 1990s. Now a certified substance abuse counselor, Nakihei spoke about how he lost two brothers, one in a drug deal gone bad and another in a car accident where the driver was under the influence of drugs or alcohol. “My life of hard knocks has given me the courage to be here today,” he said.
Ten years clean and sober, Nakihei talked about his love for the Molokai community and asked for forgiveness for how he has hurt the island. “I started out just being against meth but now I am against everything that is bringing Molokai down,” he said. “I love Molokai and will do anything for this island.”
“Everyone knows the problem,” Nakihei added, “now let’s talk solution.” If you know a user, tell them you love them, said Nakihei. “It starts at home, the police can’t do it by themselves, it takes the whole family.”
Nakihei talked about how to intervene with a family member. Don’t wait until there is trouble, try to help that person as soon as possible. For Nakihei, help didn’t come until he was arrested after his home was raided three times by police. “I’ve lived through the consequences, when I got caught I got blessed.”
DeCosta addressed the problem of people not speaking up about family meth users. “Enough with the silence, silence is killing our loved ones,” said DeCosta, who is a former addict herself who has been off meth for 14 years. “Saying a few words that you care might make all the difference.”
After the presentation, the documentary film “Meth on Molokai” — produced in 2009 by Matt Yamashita — was shown. The movie discusses how Native Hawaiians have the highest rate of addiction and that meth has been a problem on Molokai for 29 years. “Ice is killing our community,” said Wayde Lee, a local family counselor, in the movie. Testimonials from locals who have suffered with meth addiction helped put the problem in perspective.
DeCosta ended the evening with the wish for Molokai that the conversation does not end there. She encouraged people to become educated about the issue through their website, hawaiimethproject.org. The group, which started in 2009, is affiliated with meth projects in eight other states. Montana had the first meth project group, founded in 2005.