You wouldn’t think we’d ever lose track of a scourge as devastating and prevalent as methamphetamine abuse.

After all, meth-related problems are still filling up our emergency rooms, and it’s the most common substance used in Hawaii by people admitted to substance abuse treatment centers.

Meth use hasn’t diminished, but our awareness of it has.

If we’re serious about addressing issues as varied as homelessness and health system overload, worrying about meth needs to come back into style.

Methamphetamine prepared to be consumed
Methamphetamine came to Hawaii early — in the 1980s — and it’s never left. Getty Images/iStockphoto

Our meth distraction is partially due to all the attention health officials have been giving to opioid abuse and the potential for fatal overdoses from painkillers that are often obtained legally through prescriptions. That attention is warranted, but meth continues to kill a lot more people.

Another reason we’ve lost our focus on meth is more insidious: We’ve simply gotten used to it.

Meth reached our islands earlier than the rest of the United States and “Hawaii never got a break from it,” John Callery, assistant special agent in charge of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s Honolulu district office, told Civil Beat. “It’s been the drug of choice since the 1980s.”

It’s cheap, it boosts energy and it lifts the spirits of newer users — often on the job. It’s also highly addictive.

Recently, even as opioid abuse diverted attention, the meth problem has grown deadlier.

In the last decade, the number of fatal drug poisonings involving meth has nearly quadrupled in Hawaii. The confirmed total was 147 last year, but the actual number is undoubtedly higher because meth can play an undetected role in heart disease.

The increase in meth-related deaths may be evidence of just how devastating the drug’s long-term use can be. Nearly 70% of the confirmed meth-related deaths in recent years involved men in their 40s, 50s and 60s.

This alarming development could be the basis for a new opioid-style educational campaign. Something to this effect: If meth doesn’t ruin your life in the short term, it may very well kill you in the long run even if you never overdose.

Equally important is the need for more treatment options for people looking to stop using meth. Residential treatment centers where addicts are basically expected to stop cold-turkey can be effective, but they’re not for everyone.

The question for meth-users shouldn’t always be: Are you ready to quit? In some cases, it might be: What are you willing to do to start addressing the problem?

Individualized outpatient counseling may be the best alternative, but health officials say there is a scarcity of that in Hawaii.

Unfortunately, no alternative drug has been discovered to effectively replace meth use like methadone does for opioids.

Easy to get and hard to get off of. No wonder methamphetamine abuse shows no sign of abating.

There are some signs that the state is looking for solutions. As Civil Beat reported, the Hawaii Opioid Initiative launched in 2017 has broadened its mission to include meth in its substance use disorder prevention and treatment programming. The task force aims to collect more data on overdoses too.

Coupling new prevention campaigns with more treatment options is the only sane approach for a society that is under siege — whether it knows it or not.

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