Why Have There Been No Meth Lab Busts in Hawai‘i in 15 Years?

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Hawai‘i has endured a meth epidemic for nearly two decades now.

In fact, Hawai‘i was the first state in the US to be introduced to meth, also called “ice.” The drug arrived from Southeast Asia in the 1980s and then began to be found in the West Coast, Midwest and eventually, the Rocky Mountain states.

According to Hawai‘i Police Department Lt. Royce Serrao, “Methamphetamine is a central nervous system stimulant. Short-term-use physical effects include hyperactivity, hyper-verbalization, dilated pupils and weight loss. Long-term-use physical effects include poor oral hygiene (rotting teeth, bad breath), premature aging, seizures, heart attacks and liver failure. Short-term-use emotional effects include agitation, irritability, paranoia and mood swings. Long-term-use emotional effects include persistent hallucinations and the inability to carry a normal conversation. In addition, users often resort to criminal activity to procure funds to purchase meth or may resort to risky sexual behaviors in exchange for meth.”

Meth use is an expensive habit.

“A short-term meth user can smoke up to 1 gram of meth a day,” said Lt. Serrao. “A gram of meth cost approximately $50 to $80. Daily use for a week is approximately $350 to $500. After an extended period—more than one month—the user will require more meth to achieve a high.”

Methamphetamine arrests have been in a steady decline since 2005. In 2006, the state began intensive investigation and enforcement in regard to pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient for “cooking ice.” However, the  Hawai‘i County prosecutor’s office estimates that meth still plays a role in 60% to 80% of its cases.


“In 2004, the HPD seized four meth labs; since then, zero meth labs,” Lt. Serrao said.

Lt. Serrao explained, “We have no evidence to support the manufacturing of meth on the Big Island of Hawai‘i.” He believes this is due to the decreased availability of pseudophedrine, which makes clandestine manufacturing difficult.

Lt. Serrao said most of Hawai‘i’s meth is produced in Mexico and California. The meth is commonly shipped here by way of shipping containers, Fed Ex and the US Postal Service.

The Office of the Prosecuting Attorney for Hawai’i County said that once it gets here, methamphetamine is transported interisland by airline passengers.

Lt. Serrao explained how this problem is being addressed.


“Investigations have confirmed that meth is sometimes trafficked between islands,” he said. “Investigations are developed upon corroboration of the information, positive identification of the person(s) involved, methods used to traffic the drugs, properly collect evidence of the crime, intercept of the drugs and arrest of the person(s) involved. If applicable, forfeiture of the proceeds from the trafficking also occurs.”

Methamphetamine is increasingly involved in drug convictions.

In Hawai‘i, 77% of drug convictions involve methamphetamine, whereas the national average was 26%. In 2015, for 94% of drug convictions in federal court, methamphetamine played a role.

Despite there being fewer meth labs found, in the past five years, the number of people over age 50 who state meth is their drug of choice has nearly doubled. A 2011 study found  Hawai‘i employee meth at four times the national average.

People who do get convicted of possession of meth face a class C felony. Lt. Serrao explained that the offense is “punishable up to five years in prison. Possession of over an eighth-ounce or distribution of any amount is class B felony and punishable of up to 10 years in prison. Possession of more than one ounce, or distribution of more than eighth-ounce, is a class A felony and punishable up to 20 years in prison.”


First Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Dale Ross said the families of users have had a big impact on helping solve Hawai‘i’s meth problem.

“Sadly, families are often the first victims of crime committed by the loved one addicted to drugs like methamphetamine. There may be denial and cover up occurring. Families need to know that this problem can occur in any family, even ‘good families.’ The sooner intervention can occur, the better for everyone, including the loved one addicted to methamphetamine. There are substance abuse programs and a least one doctor who specializes in addiction medicine. Methamphetamine is a very difficult addiction to overcome, but it’s a fight that is well worth the effort because, over time, drug addiction will worsen and hurt everyone.”

Attorney Ross added, “The police can be called for the safe destruction of any illegal substances or paraphernalia that they might come across.”


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