The issue of drugs has taken front and center attention of communities
across the state as the state has been dubbed the “ice” capital of the
nation.

Elected officials have jumped on the bandwagon, as well they should as it is
their constituents who live in these concerned communities. But it seems
that the issue has been politicized with various groups of elected officials
trying to claim the issue as their territory. At one point it seemed there
would be multiple “summits” called by federal, state legislative and
administrative officials. Fortunately, it appears that some common sense has
prevailed as it seems there will be just one drug “summit” instead of three.

But listening to all the political rhetoric it appears that elected
officials will come up with the same old strategies that will require
pouring millions of dollars into programs that will appear to address the
immediate problem, but fail to address the systemic underpinnings.

Communities concerned about the drug problem, like elected officials, can
only see the “getting rid” of the drug users and dealers as the solution of
the problem. Arrest those drug users, throw the book at drug dealers and the
problem will go away or so communities and elected officials believe. But if
alternatives to drug use are not provided, what is there to prevent others
from substance abuse? Perhaps one of the foremost issues here is the lack of
a vibrant economy. Not enough jobs or good paying jobs has to be one of the
underlying reasons for the rise in substance abuse. Let’s start with the
family. When parents have no alternative but to work two or three jobs to
put shelter over their heads and food on the table, who is around to mentor
the children, let alone know what their children are doing or where they
are?

OK, let’s say that’s a problem that can’t be solved immediately as elected
officials have been trying for more than a decade to turn the economy
around. But let’s assume that the economic situation won’t change overnight.
What else can be done to keep kids from substance abuse?

Has anyone asked what sorts of activities kids have to occupy their time?
OK, there is school. But given the high truancy statistics in some schools,
one has to ask why those students skip classes. Could it possibly be that
the class work is just not presented in an interesting and engaging manner?
This one-size fits all education system that has been the norm for the last
40 years just does not reach kids today who have been raised on television
and video games. Teaching out of a textbook is boring for many kids and
perhaps educators need to rethink how the basics are taught. Memorizing
rules or sets of numbers may have no relevance to kids whereas seeing how
the sum of a number of minutes is crucial to the production of a video that
fits into a half hour segment may be relevant.

And what about after school? If there is nothing to do, doesn’t it make
sense that substance abuse might be an attractive amusement? Providing
healthy activities for kids once they are out of the traditional classroom
is a positive alternative. And it doesn’t necessarily have to cost money.
Parents taking turns coaching a soccer team or taking a group on an
excursion doesn’t have to cost money.

And that is an important point, if substance abuse is a community issue,
then it is the community that has to be a part of the solution. Partnering
with others in the community, pooling resources and volunteers ensure that
those who are concerned have a stake in the solution.

If addressing the drug problem is to be successful, the effort must take a
dramatic turn away from traditional responses. The solution is not having
government solve the problem. Not only does government have a poor track
record in solving these kinds of problems, but the solution has to have its
genesis in the community. If all elected officials do is spend money on a
variety of programs and projects without involvement of the community, then
the community will sit back and expect government to do it all for them.
This strategy is doomed to failure. Like one community leader noted, just
have the city build more parks so kids have a place to play. This is not a
solution that will work, instead a play area, in an idle park will be
another great place to deal in drugs.

As the drug summit convenes this next week, hopefully community and
political leaders will not resort to the tried and true spending of tax
dollars, but come up with creative ways that truly address the problem.

”’Lowell L. Kalapa is the president of the Tax Foundation of Hawaii, a
private, non-profit educational organization. For more information, please
call 536-4587 or log on to”’ http://www.tfhawaii.org

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