Substance Abuse in Hawaii: Perspectives of Key Local Human Service Organizations

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Abstract

Available evidence suggests that substance abuse in Hawaii is a substantial problem. The three major objectives of this study were to determine qualitatively Hawaii's human service organizations' perspective regarding (1) the magnitude of the statewide substance abuse problem, (2) the unmet needs of the state's substance abuse treatment system, and (3) the features of the problem unique to Hawaii's many ethnic and other subgroups. The study targeted those human service organizations most burdened by the substance abuse problem. Respondents from 55 human service organizations were interviewed using a series of 21 open-ended questions. Respondents perceived the magnitude of the Hawaii substance abuse problem to be at least comparable to that of the mainland United States. Although most respondents viewed the problem using a medical model, the problem was generally thought to be exacerbated by a community context in which substance abuse is accepted, excused, or denied. Increasing use of crystal methamphetamine and heroin were cited as the most worrisome trends. Systems issues identified were unstable funding, insufficient detoxification services, and limited availability of residential treatment and supportive services following treatment, such as housing and aftercare. Service delivery problems frequently associated with rural areas were identified, such as transportation, staff development, outreach, and difficulty providing a full range of services, particularly on neighbor islands. Cultural alienation, exacerbated by the state's prevailing multiculturalism, was thought to contribute to the substance abuse problem among all ethnic groups, but especially among Native Hawaiians. Cultural factors were thought to have a major impact on seeking care and subsequent acceptance of such care. Further study is needed to understand better the content of care, therapeutic elements, and efficacy of culturally specific treatment and prevention programs. To initiate change, concerted efforts are needed to inform Hawaii residents about the statewide substance abuse problem and local treatment system needs. Future studies should compare human service organization perceptions to those of individuals abusing substances and using these services.

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