HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A habit once associated with junkies is becoming more common among Hawaii’s youth — and that’s prompting new suggestions from lawmakers on how to tackle drug addiction in the islands.
Alan Johnson, CEO of Kaneohe drug treatment center Hina Mauka, said injection drug use is a disturbing trend that can quickly spiral out of control.
“We do see a lot of kids in treatment,” he said. “Majority of them are for marijuana. But no one does just one thing. They use alcohol. They may inject a time or two.”
He added, “It will become very difficult to quit and when it gets more complex we’re going to need a lot more resources. If you’re injecting more than one time, there’s not a lot of treatment options for you.”
Results of a statewide survey administered by the Health Department showed 1,200 public high school students admitted to shooting up in 2017. Meanwhile, 2,000 public middle school students said they’d injected drugs.
Those numbers aren’t just disturbing. They point to the paucity of drug treatment options for Hawaii youth.
In fact, Hawaii has only one youth residential drug treatment center.
There is a major shortage in addiction resources for adults as well.
House Majority Leader Della Au Belatti said the money to address the problem is there, but doesn’t always get where it’s supposed to.
“We have fractured system of payment for substance abuse treatment programs. We need to coordinate that system better,” she said.
Lt. Gov. Josh Green told HNN he is pushing to make addiction treatment a part of a person’s primary care.
“As an ER doc I see tons of addiction. When it becomes a primary care consideration then insurance can cover it better,” said Green.
“More providers can comfortably go and get extra training. Family docs can do it. Internal medicine docs. Nurse practitioners can do it. So if you can find a doctor who has expertise you don’t have to go hunting for a specialized program.”
In the meantime, if you know someone — especially a child — who’s struggling with addiction experts say you should never be ashamed to ask for help.
“Parents often have stigma and feel like oh no, I don’t want to tell anyone my kid has a problem and that’s the biggest mistake they can make,” said Johnson. “They need to reach out to the community and get help. And if you’re a parent that’s using. You don’t have to get involved but you can still help you’re child get into treatment.”
Johnson added that most public high schools have some sort of drug treatment program. However, it’s not set up to handle more complex problems.
A second youth treatment center is being built on Kauai, but funding has not been set aside to make it operational once construction is complete.