A few years ago, in a hole-in-the-wall tavern in Waikiki, I met a fellow I admired as a Navy veteran and son of a successful Hilo business family. He obviously had great intelligence and was well-read on current affairs.

But he was an alcoholic, and also addicted to marijuana use. That had left him jobless and homeless. He was fired from some jobs. Gave up on others he considered beneath him. He entered a homeless shelter.

Then the Veterans Administration stepped in and assigned him a studio apartment. The VA paid part and he paid the balance from his Social Security disability money. Much of what he had left went for alcohol and to street marijuana sellers.

He’s one of many — some among the homeless we see along Beretania Street between Long’s and the India Store, adjacent to the unused baseball field and a public restroom they’ve commandeered.

Can they be “cured” or at least made functional?

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) says researchers have found that much of addiction’s power lies in its ability to hijack and even destroy key brain regions that are meant to help us survive.

So for the deeply addicted, probably not.

“Brain imaging studies of people addicted to drugs or alcohol show decreased activity in the frontal cortex,” says Dr. Nora Volkow, director of NIH’s Institute on Drug Abuse. “When the frontal cortex isn’t working properly, people can’t make the decision to stop taking the drug even if they realize the price of taking that drug may be extremely high, and they might end up in jail. Nonetheless, they take it.”

The Treatment Research Institute concludes: “There is no ‘cure’ for addiction. But the disease can be managed and recovery is possible. The most successful treatments are modeled after treatments for other chronic, non-curable, relapsing diseases such as diabetes, hypertension or asthma. Helping patients comply with medications which reduce symptoms and adopting new health behaviors.”

Relapse rates for all the substance use disorders are about the same as those for other chronic illnesses, but there are about 20 million individuals who are in stable, long-term (a year or more) recovery.  And here’s the breakdown of the gender of addicts under treatment in Hawaii:

But the fellow I know has a “to hell with it” attitude. He knows he’s an addict. He knows about his money problems and the damage to his health. But he doesn’t care. He loves his drink and his weed.

I think that’s a wide-spread attitude and why I’ve tended to give up on our homeless programs for addicts and think the outreach and sweeps programs will just continue to have customers costing us money, with a handful put in marginal housing but certainly not cured.

The abusers generally feel there’s no way out, and so do I.

I’ll get heat for this from the do-good population, but the statistics give me confidence.

A person has to want to be “cured.” 

Most addicted persons do not.

             —-30—-

Published by Bob Jones

Journalist since age 19. St. Petersburg Times, Noticias y Viajes in Madrid, Overseas Weekly in Frankfurt and Paris, the Louisville Courier- Journal, the Honolulu Advertiser, KGMB-TV, NBC News foreign correspondent in Africa and Southeast Asia, and MidWeek columnist. LL.B LaSalle University Law. 3 years in the U.S. Air Force. Covered: Biafran War in Nigeria (1968) Vietnam War (1969-73), Iraq in 1991. George Foster Peabody Award for distinguished journalism for reporting in China. 2 Emmys for documentaries. Married to journalist Denby Fawcett; one daughter. Brett Jones, foreign service officer, State Department.

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6 Comments

  1. Thanks for your thoughtful article. I agree. I would go one step further, they are incapable of change, but the State should provide places for them to reside instead of public sidewalks. It’s difficult for seniors to walk safely in my community.

  2. There’s a well-known female in that community who was a Miss Hawai’i. There are also the native crime kings who kinda’ rule the Isenberg / Beretania corner encampment (if you’re moped got stolen from the ‘hood, likely one of these residents has it).
    The best remedies are unconstitutional, like a Kaulapapa refuge where one must go to protect the community. Of course another relief would be to decriminalize drugs, as Portugal has done so that burden is relieved. Throwing more folks into this mix in CoVid crisis increases the general population dismay.

  3. Yeah, and the homeless themselves tend to be a lot more frank and honest about this stuff than public officials, do-gooders, and most media.
    Addiction can be managed, but it can also be enabled. That’s something this town just doesn’t want to acknowledge.
    The situation around Beretania and Isenberg streets is a huge disgrace, and it hasn’t gotten any better during Caldwell’s two terms as mayor despite occasional sweeps. Why? Mostly because there is no consistent enforcement. It’s the same along Nimitz Highway and other places. The city and state allow these places to get totally out of control and then occasionally conduct a sweep, but then immediately allow the same situation to return. It’s ridiculous.
    Nimitz was swept just a couple weeks before Caldwell announced that the city’s nearby Punawai Rest Stop homeless services center has finally been completed. Now the tents and makeshift shelters are sprouting up again along Nimitz. That homeless center, and the nearby IHS shelter, enable these illegal encampments because there is no coordinated and consistent enforcement to deter them.
    It’s nice that Caldwell was able to show off the project before he leaves office in a couple months, even though it’s not really finished, but how much is it all costing? It seems that wasn’t announced and nobody bothered to ask. Simply amazing. Will there be consistent enforcement in the surrounding area to make sure that the center doesn’t just enable the homeless encampments and their drug-addicted occupants? Don’t count on it, especially with a newly elected mayor already floundering on this issue.

  4. I agree that a person has to want to change. Also, people are capable of change under the right circumstances and with the right help. I like to use Francis Akamine and Mr. Charles Clark as an example that people can change, if they want to, under the right circumstances and help.

    Background: In the Spring of 1956 at Kailua Beach Park, seventeen year old Francis Akamine, a high school dropout and trouble maker, made headlines of both daily newspapers, in the shooting death of a young U.S. Marine stationed at the Kaneohe Bay
    Marine Base. Subsequently, Mr. Akamine was charged as youthful offender under the Federal Youth Act and sentenced to the federal prison at Lompoc, California.

    Eventually, as an adult, Mr. Akamine ended up an inmate at the old Oahu Prison (OP) with a lengthy adult record with no likelihood of success for rehabilitation until Mr. Charles Clark took an interest in him. While Mr. Akamine was serving time in the late 60‘s or early 70’s , Mr. Clark as the Superintendent of the Dept. of Education took Mr. Akamine under his wings and helped guide him in earning his sociology degree from the University of Hawaii.

  5. Subsequent to my earlier posting, I discovered that in 1967, Mr. Francis Akamine was in prison for sexually assaulting a woman at Sandy Beach. He was paroled in 1973 and pardoned by Governor Ariyoshi in 1980. Years later, after living on the mainland, Mr. Akamine returned to Hawaii and got in trouble again. It is not clear, if he went back to prison for a short period of time. It is believed that Mr. Akamine ended his life by committing suicide.

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