Suffice it to say it’s far too soon to be taking a victory lap in Hawaii’s ongoing battles with addiction to crystal methamphetamine.
In June, the Hawaii Meth Project reported an encouraging shift in attitudes toward the highly addictive drug among the young. About 87 percent of young adults surveyed reported strong disapproval of trying meth, up six points from a benchmark a year earlier. And police data showed arrests plummeting by some 61 percent over the course of three years.
More recent figures, however, should give everyone pause. Methamphetamine-related arrests on Oahu are up again after that steady decrease, rising from 277 to 289 arrests and setting a pace for the first half of 2010 that could produce an even higher year-end total.
Also on the rise: positive results in workplace drug tests. Data released by Diagnostic Laboratory Services for the second quarter of this year showed a 70 percent increase in positive tests compared with the same period in 2009.
Most troubling is the fact that more than two-thirds of those positives came from job-seekers. This suggest that applicants who faced pre-employment drug tests could not stay away from the drug for even the one to four days meth remains detectable in the body.
An addiction that irrepressible should be alarming, particularly if, as some experts suggest, the stress of unemployment and the after-effects of the recession may be a driving factor. A sluggish economic recovery and persistent unemployment is projected for the indefinite future, so the lure of drugs as a coping device will be potent for some time.
Regardless of the cause, however, what’s important is the vigilance of government, the private sector and the social services network to keep focused on treatment and, even more critically, prevention. Young adults will confront a dauntingly depressed job market in the coming years and the temptation to find escape in drug addiction must be fended off.
The trafficking of meth is a powerful counterforce. The demand for "ice" has been enough to support an organization that has been shipping the drug to Hawaii, a force that recently was tamped down with the sentencing of Mexico’s Carlos Martinez and 11 others.
Underscore the words "tamped down." Where there is demand, suppliers will come to fill it.
Brushfires that are under control can present a hazard until they are completely extinguished. If conditions are right — dry, combustible undergrowth still present — embers can flame up again if they’re not watched.
The same cautious outlook should apply when evaluating the islands’ meth crisis, a smoldering menace that demands the community’s constant attention and intervention to keep Hawaii healthy.