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Hawaii Police: ‘Ice’ Scourge Spreading Across the Nation

September 23, 1989

HONOLULU (AP) _ Hawaiian authorities besieged by epidemic use of a smokable crystalline form of the illegal drug methamphetamine have a warning for police on the mainland: Highly addictive ″ice″ is heading their way.

″We’re not trying to glamorize this drug, nor are we proud that it’s hit Hawaii first, but we need to alert law enforcement people everywhere and prepare them to handle it,″ said Maj. Mike Carvalho of the Honolulu Police Department’s narcotics division.

Since 1985, there have been 32 deaths related to the crystal meth in Honolulu, including 12 in the first six months of 1989, according to Medical Examiner Mary Flynn. They included eight homicides and seven suicides in which the victims had crystal meth in their systems, she said.

The drug causes symptoms of psychosis and many users are misdiagnosed as mentally ill, especially schizophrenic.

″This drug makes people bananas. People become violent, they kill themselves, drive crazy, pick fights,″ she said. ″And we just know about the victims; who knows what the assailants were on?″

Since Sept. 5, when drug czar William Bennett unveiled a national anti-drug plan, nearly 50 U.S. agencies have requested background on crystal meth, Carvalho said.

″Last week we had a video conference projected to 600 precincts in Texas during roll call,″ Carvalho said. ″We had slides on what it looks like, the effects, what symptoms to look for and how it’s being packaged and smoked.″

Although labs making methamphetamine, also known as speed or crank, in its common powdered form are busted in California every year, the crystals smoked here come mainly from Asia, Carvalho said. Some mainland authorities familiar with meth don’t even recognize the crystalline form, which looks like rock salt or candy, he said.

Crystal meth is already turning up all along the West Coast, as well as Arizona, Texas and Florida, he said.

The crystalline form also is known as ″ice,″ ″crystals″ or ″batu.″ It has been smoked here for at least a decade by a small number of Asian immigrants, but surged to widespread use about two years ago, he said.

So far this year, about 400 people have been investigated for the possession or sale of crystal meth, described as cheaper than cocaine, with a longer high than the smokable ″crack″ form of cocaine and more addictive than heroin.

″That’s really the crux of the epidemic,″ said Dr. Joseph Giannasio, medical director of Castle Medical Center’s Alcohol and Addictions Program. ″Anytime you can get a drug that causes a very rapid high in a high dosage without having to use a needle, it’s going to be a lot more popular.″

Ice smokers get an energizing high than can last 14 hours, compared with about 15 minutes for crack. But the psychological crash is much worse and can last for days, or until the next smoke, Giannasio said.

A recent study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse called use here ″epidemic.″

Although no one can say for sure how many people here smoke ice, about 700 people required emergency treatment in the past six months after using it.

Ironically, many users switched from crack to crystal meth because they considered it safer; instead, they found themselves addicted from ″practically the first smoke,″ Giannasio said.

″The typical user turns into a paranoid person who goes days without sleep, loses weight, is very suspicious that people are out to get him. They feel like they’re going crazy,″ Giannasio said. ″But that’s not how it starts out. At first when they use the drug, they feel extremely alert, like they can accomplish anything.″

The drug can also be fatal, leading to strokes, heart attacks and pulmonary edema, which means victims drown in their own bodily fluids, he said.

Police Maj. David Benson, head of the juvenile crime division, said Filipino youth gangs control distribution of ice here.

The gangs are heavily armed, and violence has escalated recently as rival gangs and even factions of the same group compete for control of the drug. It is commonly sold in ″papers″ containing one hit, or about a tenth of a gram, for $50.

″We’re just getting the tip of the iceberg,″ he said. ″This stuff is as bad as crack and if it explodes on the national scene without the police being prepared, we’re just going to have more violence, more addicts and more dead.″

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