POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Oct 3, 2010
There is no medical or social condition in Hawaii that takes a greater toll than the use of addicting, mind-altering drugs. The federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration just published its annual report, showing the national rate of illegal drug use rising to its highest level in nearly 10 years. Significant increases in use of marijuana, ecstasy, and methamphetamine were reported. The increase in methamphetamine use was attributed in part to "eroding attitudes" about the perception of its harm.
Meth is a drug that merits our focus. A recent study by the Rand Corp. estimated the cost of meth to the United States as at least $23 billion per year. The annual cost to Hawaii is estimated at $500 million.
Treatment alone is never an adequate response to a major public health problem. There are two effective prevention strategies for substance abuse: targeting the individual and the "environmental approach," which seeks to change social norms -- beliefs and values a community holds about particular behaviors. If meth use becomes unacceptable to the community, individuals are less likely to experiment because they will not want to risk disapproval of their peers. The benefit of this approach is that by targeting the overall community, the community directly participates in the prevention effort.
The Hawaii Meth Project uses both approaches -- educating individuals about the risks of using meth and educating the community to change overall attitudes.
Its public service messages and outreach promote changes in the social norms associated with methamphetamine use. The campaign is viewed by a much broader audience than just our youth. Really, who in Hawaii hasn't heard or seen an ad? By increasing the perception of harm associated with ice, a decrease in use will follow. This is a proven and broadly accepted principle of drug use control and preventive medicine, despite the statements of Jeanne Y. Ohta, executive director of the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii ("Sending a meth message: Does it work?" Star-Advertiser, Insight, Sept. 26).
The Hawaii Meth Project is changing social norms. In 2010, a year after its launch, 54 percent of Hawaii teens and 67 percent of young adults say there is "great risk" in taking meth once or twice. In both cases this was a 10-point improvement from a 2009 benchmark survey before the project was launched. Additionally, 85-90 percent of young people say the Hawaii Meth Project helped them understand it is dangerous to try meth once or twice. This data reveals a significant shift in attitudes that can result in near-term, immediate behavioral changes and broader, longer-term changes.
I am actively involved in addiction prevention and treatment on a local and national level. I see ice addicts, potential users and their families daily. I know first-hand that the Hawaii Meth Project is reaching persons at risk and those indirectly at risk -- families, employers, neighbors. The ads are creating awareness and educating our youth and communities about the dangers of meth. The Hawaii Meth Project is helping to reduce methamphetamine use. I encourage support of its work, which is an important component of an integrated approach to prevention, treatment, public policy and law enforcement.