HONOLULU (KHON2) — Our islands are no strangers to methamphetamines. Last week a local woman was accused of carrying two pounds of crystal meth in a carry-on bag at Honolulu’s Daniel K. Inouye International Airport.
A federal agent said the meth scene in Hawaii is like a scene out of the hit television show Breaking Bad: labs in Mexico making potent, cheap meth and sending it across the United States, including here in the islands.
“It’s never been worse. For the past four decades. Meth has been Hawaii’s greatest drug threat,” Hawaii High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Executive Director Gary Yabuta said.
He said crystal meth far outpaces any other kind of overdose-causing drugs in Hawaii.
Officials said 184 of the 226 drug-related deaths in Hawaii in 2021 were meth. The problem might be getting worse.
“This year alone we have seized, law enforcement has seized in Hawaii 1,230 pounds of methamphetamine and that exceeds last year’s total in 2021 with law enforcement seizing 966 pounds,” Yabuta said.
It has been the same story in treatment facilities.
“Most of the people that come to us from Hawaii have methamphetamine problems, I would say about 70% of the people on our program have struggled with meth use,” Habilitat Executive Director Jeff Nash said.
According to Nash, much of the problem with treatment in the islands is funding.
“It’s crazy to me, but there’s not really a detox center on the island,” Nash said. “The only way you can get detox from a drug is to go to the hospital, which is obviously very, very expensive to do that. So we don’t have a detox center and in my opinion, we need a much more robust effort to do prevention with children, young children in schools, and then I think we need to fund the treatment programs that do exist.”
According to Yabuta, the last reported meth lab in Hawaii was seven years ago. He said it now comes in through cartels because it’s higher quality and cheaper. HIDTA said heroin costs about $120 to $160 a gram while meth can be as low as $40.
“We’re getting 99% pure methamphetamine from the west coast that comes across the southwest border, being made by Mexican cartels who are killing each other by the thousands in competition to get their product eventually to Hawaii,” Yabuta said.
He added that incoming illicit drugs are difficult to intercept. Authorities need probable cause to search parcels, and shipping companies are too busy.
“FedEx, UPS, and our postal offices, they’re overwhelmed with parcels they’re delivering 24/7,” said Yabuta. So to go through all those parcels, with drug detection, canine or through investigation — it’s overwhelming.”
So how does it stop? Both Yabuta and Nash want education and more funding. There is some hope with $78 million in federal funding for the opiate epidemic that can be used for drug treatment.
“We need legislation that allows people that have drug problems to get treatment rather than maybe long-term incarceration. And we need access to programs,” Nash said.
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