By Léo Azambuja

Left to right, Westside Christian Center Pastor Darryl Kua, Teen Challenge Graduate Willis Kauakahi, and Teen Challenge Coordinator Director Ron Takayama.

Drug addiction is one of the worst traits of our society. Its impact is not something to be swept under the rug.

Almost everyone is affected by drug addiction, whether directly or indirectly. It rips families apart and feeds all levels of crime in our neighborhoods. It makes us shun our own brothers and sisters who feel hopeless after getting caught in the web of drug use.

According to Teen Challenge, a nonprofit that helps people to get off drugs and other addictions, there are more than 170 drug-related deaths every day in the United States. Approximately $442 billion are spent each year to deal with drug and alcohol abuse nationwide, and about 67 percent of all families in the U.S. are struggling with active addiction, whether it is about drugs or alcohol.

In 2015, the Hawai‘i Meth Project released a study on drug use in Hawai‘i. The results were quite alarming. We spent about $500 million each year in the state of Hawai‘i for incarceration, foster care, healthcare, lost employee productivity and treatment related to drugs. About 90 percent of federally sentenced drug-related cases in Hawai‘i involved meth, and nearly 80 percent of drug-related crimes were related to meth use. Results that turned out positive for meth in workplace drug testing in Hawai‘i was 410 percent higher than the national average.

Teen Challenge graduate Willis Kauakahi, left, and Teen Challenge Outreach Coordinator Ron Takayama help with Teen Challenge’s portion of Kaumuali‘i Highway Adopt-a-Highway program.

And it’s not just adults. The Hawai‘i Meth Project study reported that 60 percent of juveniles arrested in Hawai‘i admitted to using hard drugs. More than 4,500 high school students throughout the islands said they used meth — 2,416 girls and 2,103 boys.

Last month, I talked with Ron Takayama, outreach coordinator of Teen Challenge on Kaua‘i, and got a few insights on the stigma that drug users have in the community. Many have been abandoned by friends and families, because they have ripped them off to satisfy their drug use. But they are still real people like you and I, Ron said, and they are hurting inside and harbor a lot of trauma.

I understand it may be difficult to look at drug addicts with sympathy. Many burned their bridges in the community for the sake of getting high. But Westside Christian Center Pastor Darrell Kua said, for many drug addicts, all they know is a life of drugs. Many of them grew up around drugs, and were introduced to it by their own family members.

Even if we have no sympathy for drug users, we should put judgment aside to try to understand the consequences of turning our backs to the problem. Locking people in jail won’t make the problem won’t go away, neither for them nor for the society. They will get out of jail at some point. Without a support system, their vicious cycle of drug use is at high risk of starting again.

Léo Azambuja

That’s why what the folks at Teen Challenge are doing is so important at so many levels. Their actions are not helping just drug addicts, they are also helping their families, employers, friends, neighbors, and the list goes on. By helping those who have lost all hope, they are helping them to regain control of their lives, and with it they are helping everyone around them.

And when a person becomes sober, that person has the ability to positively influence others. They can become a role model and help others to become sober too. When someone becomes sober, everyone wins.

All I’m saying is, let’s look at the drug problem with compassion. Let’s understand that those stuck in it are real people too, and most likely want to turn their lives around.

That would be a first step to become part of the solution.