HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Experts say a drug once popular in the 1980s and 90s is making a comeback: Heroin addiction here in Hawaii is on the rise, mirroring a trend of abuse seen on the mainland.
"It's increasing. It's alarming to the extent that it's increasing," said Alan Johnson, CEO of the Hina Mauka treatment center in Kaneohe.
"We're starting to see them in treatment here when they're 18 or 21, which is a pretty young crowd ... We're seeing a lot of the middle class and the more affluent."
Johnson said a recent federal crackdown on prescription opiates, like the drug Oxycodone, has prompted some addicts to turn to heroin as a cheaper replacement.
"There's definitely been an upsurge in heroin use," said defense attorney Myles Breiner. "We're seeing more and more cases of people who are getting arrested with methamphetamines and carrying personal amounts of heroin."
It's a point that was hammered home earlier this month, when federal investigators seized more than 18 pounds of heroin bound for Honolulu at the Los Angeles International Airport.
The drugs have a value of more than half a million dollars.
Agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Department of Homeland Security, Honolulu Police and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms participated in the bust, and five people were arrested for their alleged involvement. Documents indicated that it was an extensive distribution network.
Sources said that Mexican drug cartels are the likely suppliers.
Federal authorities indicated that a home in one quiet Mililani neighborhood -- just a few blocks from several parks and playgrounds -- and an apartment in the Kalihi Valley Homes project were key heroin distribution centers for Oahu.
DEA agents placed the tenant of the Mililani home, Justin Kaahu, under surveillance for a year and a half, documenting more than nine heroin and Oxycodone purchases.
The feds say that Kaahu's supplier James Jesse Perez of Waianae often visited the home under the guise of doing work on his home and yard work in order to conduct the drug transactions.
"The unidentified male then began pruning of plants in Kaahu's yard. Both (Perez) and Kaahu appeared highly wary of surveillance team vehicles that passed by the house," DEA Task Force Agent Craig Okano said in an affidavit.
"Kaahu was recorded stating, 'He come my house, brah ... pressure wash my house for me ... he stay the whole #@&!n day and we grind, we barbeque.'"
Neighbors said they often saw Kaahu and friends do yard work well past midnight.
Documents indicate that the alleged dealers were connected to a large heroin pipeline.
Even after the shipments of drugs were seized on earlier this month, another alleged distributor, Maurice Johnson, was recorded on federal wiretaps as telling Perez:
"'Ahh man, you know what, if that bag was lost at the airport, somebody picked that #@&!ah up! Okay call me as soon as you get, I get money for you," Johnson was quoted as saying in a transcript of the federal wiretap.