The crystal meth epidemic may have eased, but it is far from over, substance abuse treatment providers say, pointing to state figures that show most adult admissions to treatment centers in the islands continue to be for "ice" and that the number of people seeking help for crystal meth addictions rose last year.
The number of adults who entered state-funded drug treatment centers for crystal meth addictions increased to 3,536 last fiscal year, up about 19 percent from fiscal year 2008 and 8 percent from fiscal year 2007.
Officials attributed some of that spike to new programs that targeted crystal meth addicts, but said the higher number is still worrisome.
Alan Johnson, chief executive officer and president of Hina Mauka and chairman of the Hawaii Substance Abuse Coalition, said the crystal meth epidemic might not be as bad as it was about five years ago, when the state’s ice problem was among the worst in the nation.
But at a time when state funding cuts mean treatment centers have fewer resources for clients, providers want to remind the public the ice problem is still a significant one.
He said of the 1,500 adults who sought treatment at Hina Mauka last year, about 40 percent were addicted to crystal meth.
"That’s the lion’s share" of admissions, he said.
Statewide, 45.5 percent of state-funded adult admissions to treatment centers were for crystal meth in fiscal year 2009, higher than the 40.9 percent in the previous fiscal year but down from a four-year high of 49.6 percent in fiscal year 2006.
Meanwhile, 32.6 percent of state-funded adult admissions were for alcohol last fiscal year, and 11.5 percent were for marijuana.
Johnson said one of the difficulties with crystal meth is that addicts often need more intensive treatment compared with those recovering from addictions to other drugs or alcohol. He said 30-day treatment programs turn into 60-day programs for crystal meth addicts.
Keith Yamamoto, chief of the state Health Department’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Division, said the admission figures help guide state policy, including where money for treatment is funneled.
"This data helps us understand the problem and the degree and the direction," said Yamamoto. "We want to always make sure that our approach … (is) a balanced approach."
The division got about $19.4 million in state funds last fiscal year for treatment services, down from the $21.4 million in state funds in fiscal year 2008, according to reports to the Legislature.
Funding for prevention remained about the same over the last two years – at about $5.1 million.
Yamamoto pointed out that it is important to note that adults and minors have different addiction risks.
Among those 18 and under, the drug of choice is not crystal meth, but marijuana.
Some 52.8 percent of minors entering division-funded treatment programs sought help for marijuana use (from 58.5 percent in fiscal year 2006), while 40 percent sought treatment for alcohol use (up from 34.3 percent in 2006).
Just 0.3 percent sought help for crystal meth addictions, a figure that dropped from 2.5 percent in fiscal year 2006.
Yamamoto said alcohol abuse among minors in particular is a growing concern. Recent surveys showed more minors are turning to alcohol, and he said he expected the number of minors seeking help for alcohol addiction to continue to grow in coming years.