Hawaii rehab centers see influx of older meth addicts

Hawaii rehab centers see influx of older meth addicts
Alan Johnson
Alan Johnson
Lani Higaki
Lani Higaki

KANEOHE, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Lani Higaki admits he's in pretty bad shape.

"In June, I went to the hospital. I got pneumonia. I couldn't breathe," said Higaki, a 54-year-old methamphetamine addict.

Over the past year, Higaki has had two heart surgeries. Now he's in a nursing home so he can concentrate on his recovery.

"Right now I'm tired. You know, I'm tired of being sick. Meth makes me feel alive," said Higaki.

Higaki is among a growing number of aging meth addicts in the islands. Emergency rooms are seeing more patients fitting his profile, and the state Department of Health reports that the number of people over 50 going to rehab for meth has nearly doubled over the last five years.

"Two years ago it started being way more noticeable," said Alan Johnson, president of Hina Mauka treatment center.

"Usually it's between 50 and 75 years old. But we see a few people between 75 and 85. I believe what we have is a crisis of chronic illness in the United States here. So many people are having pain issues. Some elderly people are turning to drugs to manage their pain," Johnson said.

Higaki said he was in his 20s the first time he used meth. His mom had just passed away.

Higaki eventually lost his apartment, but managed to get clean on the street. He was sober for well over a decade when he decided to try it just once more at age 52.

"I tell myself it's for the high. But I think it's the addiction of wanting something to make me not feel like I normally feel," Higaki said.

Johnson said when doctors stop filling prescriptions, many times people are forced to get their pills on the street. When that gets too expensive, methamphetamine is a cheap and easy alternative.

"When you first take meth it works, then very quickly it's bad news," said Johnson.

Higaki said after trying meth again once, he was hooked again.

"I think it was remembering the good feeling. The immediate high. Feeling invincible that kind of kept me attracted to it. You can feel your heart just pumping which is really bad for me," Higaki said.

Three months ago, Higaki was admitted back into the hospital. Since then he's managed to stay clean. He says he's committed to kicking his habit, but knows it won't be easy.

"I'd like to say I'm 100 percent, but because I did it once I'll never be able to say I'll never do it again. That's just the way it is," said Higaki.

Johnson says treating an older population for their addiction is tricky. A lot of times they're too sick with other ailments to be admitted into traditional rehab. And doctors won't prescribe them medication because of their addiction.

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