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Hawaii -- though it's known as one of the greatest surfing destinations in the United States-- has a problem lurking beneath its entrancing, crystal-clear blue waters. The "Aloha State" is one of the wealthiest states in the United States with a median household income of $80,212 (as of 2018) and it also has the highest median house value, even higher than the District of Columbia's. Given Hawaii's relative wealth, it would be tempting to think that it had been spared the scourge of drug addiction that has ravaged poorer states, but this isn't the case. As a direct consequence of drug use, 154 people died in Hawaii in 2010. (This is higher than the number of people who died from motor vehicle accidents (124) and firearms (45) in the same year.) Despite being well-off in terms of resources, Hawaiian drug and alcohol abuse continues to rise at an alarming rate.
When we look at the relationship between addiction and economics, we quickly realize that it's quite complicated. Drug and alcohol abuse is a national problem, and no state in the US has been spared. Over 60,000 overdoses occurred nationwide in 2016, with nearly 175 people dying daily. Drug overdoses kill more people annually than suicides, homicides, car accidents and guns. These numbers increase every year.
Hawaii officials report that methamphetamine, marijuana, controlled prescription drugs (CPDs), cocaine, and heroin are their most pressing drug concerns, and that methamphetamine poses the greatest drug threat to the state as Mexican drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) and local criminal groups continue to supply the drug to the state from sources in Mexico and U.S. western states, mainly California and Nevada.
Poorer people are statistically more likely to struggle with drug or alcohol abuse, but this doesn't necessarily mean that people that are more well-off economically are less likely to become addicted. In fact in some cases, wealthy people can be thrown into poverty as a direct result of addiction. Someone who is solidly middle class can fall into poverty if their addiction leads to poor work performance and job loss. It can also then be harder to get a new job, if someone has been fired from their old one. It's a vicious downward spiral.
Much like the rest of the United States, the scourge of opioid addiction has blown through Hawaii like a tsunami, laying waste to whole communities, and decimating families. In Hawaii in 2018, 59 (a rate of 4.1) drug overdose deaths involved opioids. Opioid addiction is a particularly menacing foe because it's a malady that can sneak up on people, even when they think they're being vigilant.
Prescription painkillers (like Oxycontin, Vicodin, and Percocet) are highly addictive, in large part because they activate the powerful reward centers in the human brain. These drugs trigger the release of endorphins, (your brain's feel-good neurotransmitters) which mask or interrupt your perception of pain and enhance feelings of pleasure and happiness, creating a short-lasting but extremely powerful sense of well-being. It's only human to love the feeling! And, when an opioid starts to wear off, it's in our very human nature to crave the return of that wonderful sense that everything is perfect and as it should be. This is the first step on the path toward addiction, and it can happen even to people who think they're being careful.
The root of the opioid problem stems from doctors over-prescribing these highly addictive drugs when, in many cases, Tylenol, Excedrin or Advil will do. These drugs may seem safe, especially when doctors prescribe them, but just one or two of few these prescription pain pills can get people hooked and send them off on a downward spiral into the throes of full-on dependency. In 2018, Hawaii providers wrote 33.4 opioid prescriptions for every 100 people!
Unfortunately, prescription painkiller abuse can often send people down far darker paths. Opioids often lead to heroin addiction, (as heroin is cheaper than the pills, and usually far easier to obtain on the street.) The spiral downward doesn't stop there. When certain street drugs like heroin aren't available, drug abusers often then turn to incredibly powerful and dangerous synthetics like fentanyl, which sooner or later result in a body bag. In the United States, synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, are now the most common drugs involved in drug overdose deaths, responsible for 59% of all opioid-related decedents.
The most recent NSDUH survey data available is from 2014-2015, during which just over one million people lived in the state of Hawaii. According to the latest survey:
133,000 people (12.62% of the Hawaiian population) reported using marijuana. This is particularly alarming, because marijuana can often lead to the abuse of harder, more harmful substances.
21,000 people (1.99% of the Hawaiian population) reported using some form of cocaine.
2,000 people (0.23% of the Hawaiian population) reported using some form of heroin.
Another recent study took a look at the substances most commonly abused by Hawaii youth, and the numbers are concerning:
7% of Hawaii youth (ages 12-17) report using pain relievers in a way not directed by a doctor in the past year.
The good news for Hawaii residents struggling with drug and alcohol addiction is that help is only a few clicks away. The Aloha State is awash in resources, whether you just need counseling, a broader more community-based approach, or full-on detox services. All it takes is the courage to take the first, terrifying step. Embrace the pain that got you here. Use it, own it, and move past it. Today is the first day of the rest of your life.
Hawaii State Facts
Hawaii Population: 1,211,489
Law Enforcement Officers in Hawaii: 3,429
Hawaii Prison Population: 5,100
Hawaii Probation Population: 15,581
Violent Crime Rate National Ranking: 41
2004 Federal Drug Seizures in Hawaii
Cocaine: 4.3 kgs.
Heroin: 1.1 kgs.
Methamphetamine: 22.7 kgs.
Marijuana: 24.6 kgs.
Ecstasy: 0 tablets
Methamphetamine Laboratories: 7 (DEA, state, and local)
Hawaii Drug Situation: The Hawaiian Islands are made up of eight major islands and a 1,500 mile chain of islets, covering 6,422.6 square miles in the North Central Pacific Ocean. Hawaii is populated by approximately 1.2 million people, with the largest ethnic variety in any of the states. All of the illegal drugs that are available on the mainland can also be found in the islands, with crystal methamphetamine (ice), marijuana, cocaine HCL, crack cocaine, heroin, and predatory drugs being the leading threats in the state. As part of the Los Angeles Field Division, the Honolulu District Office (HDO) is located 2,500 miles from the continental United States. The HDO has an Area of Responsibility (AOR) that encompasses the State of Hawaii, the islands of Guam, Saipan, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), and American Samoa.
The majority of drugs are brought into the state by aircraft passengers or through the use of shipping companies and the U.S. postal service. Hawaii has several (International) airports and airfields on six of the eight islands. The largest of the airports is the Honolulu International Airport on Oahu. In any given year, there are more than seven million visitors to the Islands. The majority of the incoming flights originate from the U.S. mainland, Canada, and Asia.
Cocaine in Hawaii: Cocaine is Hawaii’s third most significant drug threat. Cocaine prices indicate that sufficient quantities of cocaine and crack cocaine are available to meet user demand. The distribution and abuse of powdered and crack cocaine are associated with criminal activities such as homicides, assaults, and child abuse/neglect cases. Pacific Islander, Mexican, and local organizations are the primary transporters of powdered cocaine into the state while Pacific Islanders and local organizations convert the powder cocaine into crack and distribute the cocaine at the retail level along with street gangs.
A variety of drug organizations engage in wholesale and retail cocaine distribution in Hawaii. It is believed that Mexican DTO's with ties to California and Mexico primarily distribute cocaine at the wholesale level. Independent dealers and street gangs distribute cocaine at the retail level. Cocaine is often used with other drugs including alcohol, heroin and/or marijuana. Cocaine is also often distributed with other drugs. Cocaine on the Big Island is popular and easily acquired by users. On Maui, cocaine distribution is controlled primarily by Mexican organizations that also deal in black tar heroin on the west side. Cocaine HCl is rarely seen in Guam and Saipan.
Crack cocaine is also readily available. Most crack is converted as needed, usually an ounce or two at a time, although occasionally pound quantities have been smuggled into Hawaii.
Heroin in Hawaii: Much of the heroin used in Hawaii is black tar heroin, although there is some smuggling and distribution of Southeast Asian heroin.
Methamphetamine in Hawaii: Crystal methamphetamine (ice) is the drug of choice in Hawaii and is considered by far the most significant drug threat. Per capita, Hawaii has the highest population of ice users in the nation. Experts unanimously blame the high crime rate (predominantly property crimes) in Hawaii on drugs. High purity ice, ranging from 96-99 percent pure, is readily available, and is commonly abused throughout the State. Ice abuse and associated violent crimes, such as domestic abuse, child neglect, hostage situations, and homicides continue to increase throughout the entire island state. Pound quantities of ice arrive from the southwest regions of the U.S. smuggled by couriers, by parcel services, and U.S. Postal Service. Local addicts can purchase ice from a variety of sources, since ounce dealers are abundant throughout the state. Most of the meth laboratories that are seized in Hawaii are small “conversion” laboratories, with analysis of glassware and chemicals revealing that most laboratories are capable of manufacturing ounce quantities.
Ice continues to be smuggled into Guam from Hong Kong, Korea, the Philippines, and West Coast locations such as San Jose, CA; Seattle, WA; and Oregon. Recent intelligence indicates that most of the ice trafficking is still linked to Chinese traffickers sending multi-kilo quantity shipments from Hong Kong. However, the Filipino, Korean, and Vietnamese traffickers are still heavily involved in smuggling various amounts of this drug into Guam.
Guam and Saipan sit on the doorstep to Asia and are only a few short hours via air from such Asian cities as Manila, Taipei, Hong Kong, Tokyo and Seoul. With a multitude of ice production labs existing in the Philippines, Peoples Republic of China, Korea and Taiwan which are able to manufacture ice cheaply, relatively large quantities of the drug can be transported to Guam and Saipan where it commands a much higher price and where a larger user population exists. The cost of ice in Guam/CNMI is approximately seven times the purchase price in the domestic U.S.
Predatory Drugs in Hawaii: Abuse of predatory drugs, including MDMA, GHB, and LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), is increasing among Hawaii’s youth and the large military population stationed in Hawaii. These drugs are readily available and typically consumed among military personnel, teenagers, and young adults attracted to dance clubs, raves, and bars. In July of 2003, agents from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and the HDO conducted a controlled purchase of approximately one gram of Alpha-Methyltryptamine (AMT) from an active duty sailor. In August 2003, another gram of AMT was purchased. A subsequent search warrant was conducted and 10 grams of AMT were seized.
MDMA, or Ecstasy, is an increasing problem on Guam and in the CNMI. Seizures and intelligence information have increased throughout the region. Based on the information available, Ecstasy appears to be the fastest growing problem in the region.
In Hawaii, teenagers and young adults (20-30 years old) are increasingly using Ecstasy, which is readily available at raves, nightclubs, and some hotels. Ecstasy is not manufactured here, but is shipped from the mainland through the U.S. Postal Service, parcel services or smuggled on incoming flights through the Honolulu Airport. Ecstasy abuse is rising among the large military population in Hawaii. Local military officials view ecstasy use as the major drug use issue affecting active duty military in Hawaii.
Predatory drugs pose the biggest problem for the military population. Hawaii is home to more than 78,000 military personnel and their dependants located on five major military bases and facilities, with most located on Oahu. Military law enforcement personnel are seeing predatory drugs as the drug of choice since it is popular among the younger military personnel, in part because of the speed at which these drugs leave their systems.
On the Big Island, raves and nightclubs are a source for MDMA; however the rave scene is not prolific.
Similar to the methamphetamine trade, Asian syndicates are primarily responsible for the trafficking of YABA. Approximately 500 YABA tablets were seized in Guam (2003) during an inspection of a military aircraft. The YABA was destined for Hawaii from Thailand.
Marijuana in Hawaii: Hawaii’s second most significant drug threat is marijuana. This drug is widely available and continues to increase among Hawaii’s juveniles. Hawaiian grown cannabis is commonly cultivated and contains some of the highest tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in the nation. Although most of the marijuana available in Hawaii is produced locally, “BC BUD” is increasingly smuggled into the Continental U.S., and subsequently Hawaii, from Canada. Local and Pacific Islander DTO's are the primary wholesale and retail marijuana distributors.
Hawaii remains a national leader in the production of high-grade cultivated marijuana. Home-grown marijuana, either harvested from indoor grows or from small garden to larger outdoor grows, remains a staple for the local demand and for export to the mainland. Medical marijuana certificates allow local users to grow several plants at their residences for personal consumption. The availability of marijuana is common, and use is perceived by the local population as normal. Small mail order marijuana operations from the Big Island to the mainland exist and survive by shipping small quantities through air parcel providers. Marijuana is also being purchased in San Francisco and shipped to Maui via parcel service. Mexican marijuana and Canadian marijuana (“BC BUD”) continue to be seized occasionally at the Honolulu International Airport. On the Big Island, marijuana cultivators are involved in poly-drug trafficking. Marijuana is frequently encountered in public schools (grades 6-12) in Hawaii. Marijuana is readily available in Guam and Saipan, where it is grown locally in clandestine areas and smuggled from Palau. Marijuana users are not as common as ice users in Guam. On Saipan, marijuana is sold on junior-high school and high school campuses.
The State of Hawaii has historically been one of the highest producers of high level Delta-9- tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content marijuana in the U.S. Marijuana cultivation is abundant on all five major islands; however, the vast majority of fields are located on the Island of Hawaii (Big Island/Hawaii County) and the Island of Maui. Cultivation occurs mostly outdoors in all agricultural environments from sea level to 8,000 feet elevations, in forested areas, cane fields, former cane fields, mountains, pasture land, federal and state parks, as well as residential backyards. Often marijuana is found growing in the same areas. Due to Hawaii’s moderate weather and year-round nurturing climate, outdoor cultivation remains a year-round agri-business. Indoor cultivation is a growing concern and continues to be more prevalent than seizure statistics indicate. The demand for marijuana, the high prices it commands, and the relative ease in growing, either indoor or outdoor, are all strong incentives for marijuana cultivation in Hawaii. Recent medicinal marijuana legislation and a 2001 DEA decision authorizing further hemp studies give the Hawaii cultivator the perception of leniency in marijuana enforcement.
Other Drugs in Hawaii: The most common sources for diversion of pharmaceutically controlled substances continue to be doctor shoppers; employees who steal from the drug inventory; prescription fraud, including forgeries and other types of prescription falsification; and physicians who indiscriminately prescribe and write prescriptions for reasons other than legitimate medical purposes. Hydrocodone is one of the most abused pharmaceutical drugs in Hawaii, ranging from $3-$9 per tab on the street. OxyContin's street price has risen 20% (80 mg/$18; 40 mg/$9; 20 mg/$4-5; 10 mg/$3) due to increased demand. Local pharmacies in Hilo report that individuals are purchasing the maximum limits for pseudoephedrine-based OTC drugs.
DEA Mobile Enforcement Teams: This cooperative program with state and local law enforcement counterparts was conceived in 1995 in response to the overwhelming problem of drug-related violent crime in towns and cities across the nation. There have been 409 deployments completed resulting in 16,763 arrests of violent drug criminals as of February 2004. There have been four MET deployments in the State of Hawaii since the inception of the program: Hilo, Waipahu, Maui, and Kona.
DEA Regional Enforcement Teams: This program was designed to augment existing DEA division resources by targeting drug organizations operating in the United States where there is a lack of sufficient local drug law enforcement. This Program was conceived in 1999 in response to the threat posed by drug trafficking organizations that have established networks of cells to conduct drug trafficking operations in smaller, non-traditional trafficking locations in the United States. Nationwide, there have been 22 deployments completed resulting in 608 arrests of drug trafficking criminals as of February 2004. There have been no RET deployments in the State of Hawaii.