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Study: Crystal meth most available, most abused illegal drug on Guam

By JENNIFER H. SVAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 30, 2003

This is the second of a two-part series on drugs and crime on Guam. For the first part of the article, click here.

Methamphetamine abuse has increased significantly during the last decade on Guam, a recent study by the Department of Justice’s National Drug Intelligence Center found.

Released earlier this month, “Guam: Drug Threat Assessment” says methamphetamine — specifically high-purity crystal methamphetamine — “poses a serious illicit drug threat to Guam.”

The drug has replaced marijuana as the most available in this U.S. territory, the report said. But marijuana use, particularly among junior-high and high-school students, continues to be a problem.

From 1994 to 1999, Guam’s methamphetamine-related arrests increased from 47 to 333 per year, according to the center’s drug threat assessment.

In 1999, the most recent year for which data was available, almost 75 percent — three out of four — of Guam’s 447 adult drug-related arrests involved methamphetamine.

Often called the poor man’s cocaine due to its relatively low cost and similar effect, crystal methamphetamine is known as “shabu” on Guam.

Typically, it’s smoked in a glass pipe or vial, the study said. Users heat the glass with a lighter and inhale the vapors for euphoric effects that can last 12 hours or more — and that can kill.

In the past decade on the island of Oahu alone, according to the Honolulu Medical Examiner’s Office, deaths in which crystal meth was a chief cause quadrupled to 62 in 2002 — more deaths than were linked to any other illegal drug or alcohol, CBS News reported Sept. 12.

The federal assessment concluded that methamphetamine abuse also is evident throughout Guam’s population, spanning all ethnic, cultural and age groups.

Of students in grades seven through 12 who completed a 1999 drug-use survey by the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, more than 7 percent reported using methamphetamine at least once.

The drug is readily available on Guam in gram to kilogram quantities because of a steady supply from the Philippines, Hong Kong, China, Taiwan and South Korea, the report said.

The Drug Enforcement Agency reports the price of crystal methamphetamine at the retail level decreased from a range of $600-$1,000 per gram in fiscal 1999 to $250-$500 in fiscal 2000.

Most drugs arrive on Guam through the Guam International Air Terminal, according to the study; drugs often are seized from passengers, baggage and cargo.

The drug assessment suggests a link between the drug and violent crime.

“Guam law enforcement authorities believe that the increase in drug abuse and distribution, most of which is related to crystal methamphetamine, has contributed to rising levels of violent crime,” the report stated.

The drug assessment reported that armed robberies in Guam increased from 32 in 1990 to 105 in 1998. Police also said crystal meth was linked recently to at least one robbery ring in which thieves exchanged stolen guns for the drug.

Heroin and cocaine are available in limited quantities on the island and pose a minor threat, the study stated, citing reports from Guam’s attorney general’s office and law enforcement.

But crystal meth’s abuse and availability likely will continue to increase, the federal report concluded, leading to more violent crime.


Marijuana still popular among youth

Although methamphetamine use is on the rise in Guam, marijuana still is popular with young people.

A study from the Department of Justice’s National Drug Intelligence Center found that almost 33 percent of Guam students in grades seven through 12 who completed a 1999 health survey reported having smoked marijuana.

Despite law enforcement efforts, marijuana is readily available, the study said, adding that many young Japanese tourists seek the drug during visits.

Marijuana dealers on Guam cash in on that fact.

The price of one machine-rolled joint for sale to a Japanese tourist ranges from $150 to $200, considerably more than the $20 paid by local users, the study said.

Violence occasionally is associated with cannabis cultivation, the Justice Department reported.

Law enforcement officers encounter a significant number of small cannabis plots in remote areas, and cannabis growers sometimes booby-trap the sites, the study said.

Marijuana not grown locally typically is smuggled into Guam from the Republic of Palau, and to a lesser extent from Hawaii and the Federated States of Micronesia, the Justice Department reported. Transportation methods include package delivery services and commercial air cargo, the study said.

— Jennifer H. Svan

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