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Hawaii Drug Threat Assessment
May 2002


Methamphetamine, particularly high purity crystal methamphetamine also known as ice, poses the greatest drug threat to Hawaii. The number of treatment admissions for methamphetamine abuse more than doubled from 1994 through 2000. Honolulu had the highest percentage of adult male arrestees who tested positive for methamphetamine among cities reporting to the Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring (ADAM) program in 2000. Violence associated with the distribution and abuse of methamphetamine is a serious concern for law enforcement officials and healthcare professionals in Hawaii. Mexican criminal groups transport crystal and powdered methamphetamine from the West Coast into Hawaii and distribute the drug at the wholesale level. Local independent dealers convert some powdered methamphetamine transported into the islands to crystal methamphetamine and distribute it at the retail level. Asian criminal groups transport some crystal methamphetamine from the West Coast and Asia into Hawaii and distribute the drug at the wholesale level. Mexican and Asian criminal groups transport methamphetamine typically using couriers on commercial flights or via package delivery services. Street gangs, local independent dealers, and outlaw motorcycle gangs (OMGs) distribute methamphetamine at the retail level.

Crystal Methamphetamine

Crystal methamphetamine is a colorless, odorless, smokable form of d-methamphetamine resembling glass fragments or ice shavings.


Methamphetamine abuse is a significant problem in Hawaii, particularly in several communities on Oahu, including Ewa Beach, Kalihi, Waianae, and Waipahu. Abusers prefer high purity--averaging over 90 percent--crystal methamphetamine, which is smoked in glass pipes. Powdered methamphetamine is not commonly abused in Hawaii.

Admissions to publicly funded treatment facilities for methamphetamine abuse are increasing in Hawaii. According to TEDS, admissions for methamphetamine abuse increased overall from 644 in 1994 to 1,548 in 2000. (See Table 1.) Those admitted to treatment for methamphetamine abuse accounted for 17.0 percent of all admissions in 1994 compared with 27.3 percent in 2000, when 73.8 percent were aged 21 to 40, and 8.5 percent were 17 or younger. However, many abusers who seek treatment are not admitted because most state-funded treatment programs are operating at maximum capacity.

Table 1. Methamphetamine-Related Treatment Admissions to Publicly Funded Facilities, Hawaii, 1994-2000

Year Admissions
1994   644
1995 1,040
1996   944
1997 1,175
1998 1,243
1999 1,417
2000 1,548

 Source: U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Treatment Episode Data Set.

Lifetime methamphetamine abuse remained stable at low levels among the adult population in Hawaii from 1995 to 1998 but increased among young adult males. According to the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, during that timeframe the number of treatment admissions to publicly funded facilities for methamphetamine abuse increased among Caucasians, Japanese Americans, and Native Hawaiians, while the number of admissions decreased among Filipinos. Less than 1 percent of all adult respondents in Hawaii reported lifetime methamphetamine abuse, according to the 1995 and 1998 Center for Substance Abuse Treatment surveys. Of that 1 percent, abuse among males aged 18 to 24 increased from 1.4 percent of respondents in 1995 to 6.1 percent in 1998.

Data from ADAM indicate that methamphetamine abuse among adult male arrestees is a serious problem in Hawaii. In 2000 Honolulu had the highest percentage of adult male arrestees who tested positive for methamphetamine abuse--nearly 36 percent--among cities reporting to the ADAM program.

Despite the significance of the methamphetamine problem among the adult population, Hawaii school age youths have lower rates of lifetime methamphetamine abuse than youths nationwide. According to the 2000 Hawaii Student Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drug Use Study, 2 percent of eighth grade, 5 percent of tenth grade, and 6 percent of twelfth grade students reported lifetime methamphetamine abuse. According to the Hawaii study, 4 percent of eighth grade, 7 percent of tenth grade, and 8 percent of twelfth grade students nationwide reported lifetime methamphetamine abuse. According to the 1999 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), 7.7 percent of high school students in Hawaii reported lifetime methamphetamine abuse compared with 9.1 percent of high school students nationwide.

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Methamphetamine is readily available in most areas of Hawaii. Mexico-produced methamphetamine is most readily available; however, methamphetamine produced in California and, to a lesser extent, methamphetamine produced in Asia and locally produced methamphetamine also are available. Two types of methamphetamine are available in Hawaii--crystal and powdered. High purity crystal methamphetamine is the most prevalent form available. Two primary types of crystal methamphetamine are available. The first type is known as clear, which is white and highly refined. The second type is known as wash, which is brown, less highly refined, and has been washed using acetone and alcohol to improve its appearance.

Decreasing prices for methamphetamine in Hawaii may indicate increased availability. The price of crystal methamphetamine peaked at $10,000 per ounce in 1997 and decreased to $2,500 to $3,000 per ounce in 2000. During that year a gram of crystal methamphetamine--which provides about 30 doses--sold for $200 to $300 in Honolulu, $250 in Hawaii County, $300 to $500 in Maui County, and $500 in Kauai County. Throughout the state crystal methamphetamine sold for $28,000 to $35,000 per pound in 2000.

In Hawaii the percentage of methamphetamine-related federal sentences was significantly higher than the national percentage. According to U.S. Sentencing Commission data, over 44.6 percent of drug-related federal sentences in Hawaii in FY2000 were methamphetamine-related compared with 14.5 percent nationwide. The number of methamphetamine-related federal sentences was higher than the number of sentences for any other drug in the state in FY2000. Hawaii had 69 methamphetamine-related federal sentences in FY1996, 53 in FY1997, 67 in FY1998, 81 in FY1999, and 66 in FY2000.



Methamphetamine-related violence is a concern to law enforcement officials and public health professionals. Methamphetamine abusers tend to be violent and can endanger themselves and those around them. As the euphoric effects of methamphetamine begin to diminish, abusers enter a stage called tweaking in which they are prone to violence, delusions, and paranoia. Many abusers try to buffer the effects of the methamphetamine "crash" with other drugs such as cocaine or heroin. These effects, in combination with severe sleep deprivation, can result in unpredictable and uncontrollable behavior.


During the tweaking stage, the methamphetamine abuser often has not slept for days and, consequently, is extremely irritable. The tweaker also craves more methamphetamine, which results in frustration and contributes to anxiety and restlessness. In this stage, the abuser may become violent without provocation. Case histories indicate that tweakers have become antagonized at the mere sight of a police uniform.

Methamphetamine producers and abusers sometimes commit violent crimes in Hawaii, including an alarming number of domestic crimes ranging from child neglect to homicide. The paranoia that accompanies methamphetamine abuse has caused many abusers to assault and even kill family members, including children. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reports that domestic violence incidents, to include child abuse, often have a nexus to crystal methamphetamine use. Methamphetamine abuse also has been associated with several incidents of violence involving hostages.

Murder and Attempted Murder Charges Filed

In September 2000 a Kauai man who told police that he used crystal methamphetamine along with several other drugs was accused of fatally shooting a neighbor and attempting to murder a homeless man. The accused man told police he was protecting his family from drug dealers and neighbors who he believed were spying on him.

Source: Associated Press, 21 September 2000.

Autopsy Shows Man in Police Standoff Had Taken Crystal Methamphetamine

In January 2000 a crystal methamphetamine user held a woman hostage for 4 hours before he committed suicide, following a standoff with police. Toxicology tests indicated the man had used crystal methamphetamine in the 24 hours preceding the incident. He had escaped from a halfway house in December after refusing a random drug test.

Source: Honolulu Police Department.

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Local independent operators produce small quantities of powdered methamphetamine in Hawaii, but most is transported to Hawaii by Mexican criminal groups. Local independent dealers also convert powdered methamphetamine into crystal methamphetamine, primarily on Hawaii, Kauai, Molokai, and Oahu. Conversion laboratories were first found on Oahu in 1996; since 1998 Hawaii law enforcement authorities have seized both conversion and production laboratories.

Conversion to Crystal Methamphetamine

The conversion of powdered methamphetamine to crystal methamphetamine involves dissolving d-methamphetamine powder in a solvent such as denatured alcohol. Evaporation of the solvent causes large crystals to form around the edge of the container. Typically, the crystals are removed and dried on a paper towel. If the solution is evaporated at room temperature, the crystals will be large. However, if the solution is evaporated in a refrigerator, the crystals will be small; if a freezer is used, the crystals will be even smaller.

Law enforcement officers seized the first production laboratory on the island of Hawaii in 1998 and another on Maui in late 1999. During 2000 state and local law enforcement officers in Honolulu seized seven methamphetamine laboratories; six were conversion laboratories and one was a production laboratory. The hydriodic acid/red phosphorus method was used in the seized production laboratory. Officers also recovered more than 200 milliliters of liquid methamphetamine and located a chemical dumpsite at the eastern end of Oahu. At the dumpsite, officers discovered seven large trash bags that contained empty pseudoephedrine tablet boxes, matchbooks without the striker pads, and empty 1-gallon acetone and toluene containers, all used in the production of methamphetamine. In separate investigations during 2001, law enforcement officers seized two production laboratories on the island of Oahu.

Third Methamphetamine Laboratory Hit

During a 1-week period in September 2000, Honolulu police officers raided one production and two conversion laboratories, resulting in six arrests. Law enforcement officials discovered precursor and essential chemicals including iodine crystals, ephedrine, acetone, and denatured alcohol at the laboratory sites.

Source: Associated Press, 28 September 2000.


Hydriodic Acid/Red Phosphorus Methamphetamine Production Method

The principal chemicals required are ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, hydriodic acid, and red phosphorus. This method can yield multipound quantities of high quality d-methamphetamine and often is associated with Mexican drug trafficking organizations.

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Mexican criminal groups have replaced traditional Asian criminal groups as the primary transporters of methamphetamine. Mexican criminal groups are the primary transporters of Mexico-produced methamphetamine as well as methamphetamine produced in California. Law enforcement officials report that Mexican criminal groups transport methamphetamine into Hawaii from the West Coast, primarily California. Mexican criminal groups transport both powdered and crystal methamphetamine. Some powdered methamphetamine is converted to crystal methamphetamine in Mexico and on the West Coast for transportation to Hawaii.

Traditional Asian transporters of crystal methamphetamine--primarily Korean, Japanese, Filipino, and Vietnamese criminal groups--also transport the drug into Hawaii, but to a lesser extent than during the mid-1980s to early 1990s. In the early 1990s law enforcement authorities in Hawaii dismantled several large Asian, primarily Korean, criminal groups that dominated the transportation of crystal methamphetamine into Hawaii from Asia. These groups continue to transport some crystal methamphetamine into Hawaii from the West Coast and from source countries including Korea and Thailand. Hawaii is also a transshipment point for methamphetamine transported by Asian criminal groups from the West Coast to the Pacific Basin, primarily Guam.

Most methamphetamine is transported into Hawaii on commercial flights by courier or package delivery service. Many of the flights originate from the West Coast, primarily California. According to 2000 Operation Jetway statistics, in Hawaii there were eight seizures of crystal methamphetamine totaling slightly more than 11 kilograms and seven seizures of powdered methamphetamine totaling nearly 11 kilograms. All of the methamphetamine was transported from California by courier or package delivery service. Each courier typically carried about 100 grams of methamphetamine taped to the body or hidden in luggage. Packages usually contained larger quantities.

Operation Jetway

Operation Jetway is a domestic interdiction program supported by the El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC). It operates across the nation at airports, train stations, bus stations, package shipment facilities, U.S. Post Offices, and airport hotels and motels.

The Honolulu International Airport is the primary port of entry for methamphetamine transported into Hawaii. Approximately 90 percent of the methamphetamine seized in Hawaii is transported into the state via the Honolulu International Airport. According to the Hawaii HIDTA Task Force, there were more than 21 kilograms of crystal methamphetamine seized at the Honolulu International Airport between July 1999 and June 2000.

Methamphetamine Seizures

In March 2000 Honolulu Operation Jetway Task Force officers seized 728 grams of crystal methamphetamine and arrested two male residents of Honolulu and one male resident of Redondo Beach, California. Two of the suspects had traveled together from Los Angeles; the other had traveled separately on an earlier flight.

In May 1998 Honolulu Operation Jetway Task Force officers seized 1,230 grams of crystal methamphetamine from a Caucasian male resident of Salem, Oregon, traveling from Los Angeles, California, to Honolulu. The methamphetamine was concealed in the suspect's carry-on luggage inside a detergent box.

In late 1997 Los Angeles Operation Jetway Task Force officers seized 3 kilograms of methamphetamine from two Hispanic females traveling from Los Angeles to Guam via Honolulu. The suspects concealed the drugs in their checked luggage.

Source: EPIC.

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Mexican criminal groups and, to a lesser extent, Asian criminal groups distribute methamphetamine at the wholesale level in Hawaii. Since the mid-1990s Mexican criminal groups have dominated the wholesale distribution of crystal and powdered methamphetamine in the state. Historically, Asian criminal groups had controlled wholesale distribution of crystal methamphetamine in Hawaii. Mexican criminal groups became dominant following successful law enforcement investigations conducted in the early 1990s that targeted Asian criminal groups operating in Hawaii. According to law enforcement officials, Asian criminal groups and local independent dealers transport wholesale quantities of methamphetamine from Honolulu to Kauai for retail distribution. Both Mexican and Asian criminal groups continue to supply methamphetamine to retail distributors in Hawaii.

Street gangs, local independent dealers, and OMGs distribute methamphetamine at the retail level in Hawaii. Retail distributors use pagers and cellular telephones when distributing methamphetamine. Methamphetamine sold at the retail level frequently is packaged in plastic bags. Retail distribution of methamphetamine occurs throughout Honolulu primarily in the downtown area in nightclubs or on street corners and from houses in residential communities.

Kailua Couple Accused of Selling Drugs From Home

In December 2000 an undercover police investigation led to the arrest of a Kailua man and woman who allegedly sold crystal methamphetamine from their home. Police reportedly discovered more than 15 grams of methamphetamine and over $700 during a search of the suspects' home.

Source: Honolulu Police Department.


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