Behind drug statistics is real human drama
“There was a lot of hostility in our household when I was growing up,” local artist Jon S. said, sitting outside a café in Tumon, smoking as he recalled how addiction tore his family apart.
When thinking about surviving drug addiction, we look at individuals rising from their own negative choices. However, one’s addiction can hurt beyond the self. It affects their loved ones, friends and neighbors.
“My dad has been a drug addict since he was living in the Philippines and he carried that is addiction when he moved to Guam,” Jon S. recounted, rubbing a tattooed knuckle upon his stubbled chin. “He left his paraphernalia in the bathroom and I’d tell my mom, but she’d get mad at me for having a big mouth. She’d never get mad at him.”
Having been a helpless child with unreliable parents, the 40-year-old artist from Dededo had never felt at home anywhere. “I didn’t feel safe growing up. I didn’t feel threatened or my life was in danger, but it’s as if I didn’t have a morally right home,” he said. “I couldn’t relax. I didn’t want to be there.”
Rose M., a mother of four, is in the same predicament. Her husband is constantly high, using up his paychecks to buy meth. “This has been causing me anxiety. I don’t know what to do anymore,” she said. “He often skips work. Sometimes his dealers would show up at our house.”
On several occasions, Rose M. left their home in Asan and holed up in a hotel with her children to escape the situation. Getting a divorce often crosses her mind. “But deep in my heart, I still love him and the thought of leaving him hurts me,” she confessed. “He needs help, but how can you help somebody who doesn’t want to help himself and doesn’t even acknowledge that he needs in help.”
Rampant drug addiction is a menace that lurks behind Guam’s lush landscapes and sandy beaches that beckon tourists.
“The nature and extent of Guam's drug problem has not significantly changed over the years. Crystal methamphetamine or ‘ice’ continues to be the most commonly abused illegal drug on Guam, and it has been the prominent drug of choice on Guam over the past three decades,” states the Bureau of Statistics and Plans’ May 2019 report.
BSP said the continental United States is the growing source of production and transshipment for Guam. The drug is mostly being smuggled onto the island through the postal services and private express mail.
“The Philippines, which serves as both a production and transshipment area, continues to be one of the main sources of the crystal methamphetamine being available on Guam,” the report said. “Crystal methamphetamine is also produced in and transported from our neighboring Asian countries such as Hong Kong, Taiwan, China and Korea.”
In March 2018, local authorities seized 35 lbs of cocaine from the home in Inarajan. The cocaine contained in a plastic barrel marooned into a beach property several weeks before the raid dubbed as “the biggest cocaine bust on Guam.” By then, the cocaine had been widely distributed.
According to the National Drug Intelligence Center, 30 percent of individuals who were treated for drugs in Guam were primarily treated for crystal meth. “In recent years, $140 million in drugs were seized, much of this being crystal meth. Armed robbery increases have been linked to crystal meth, as dealers opt to receive valuable items in place of money to distribute drugs” NDIC said.
After years of intense, law enforcement narcotics interdiction efforts on Guam's "ice" problem, criminal organizations have changed their methods of importation by reducing the quantity of "ice" shipments into smaller quantities with higher frequency as insurance against interdiction operations, according to BLS report. Previous imports of "ice" ranged from 1-2 kilogram quantities. In Calendar Year 2017, the task force seized 20,576.37 grams of methamphetamine with a street value of$9.9 million; 16,582.41 grams of marijuana with a street value of $312,348.20; and 940 grams of spice with a street value of $9,400.
For drug dependent individuals and their families, this problem is more real and more painful than the statistics. Drug addiction causes emotional and financial drain.
When Rose M.’s husband runs out of money, he sells any item in the household that he could sell. “He even sold his wedding ring to a shop. I had to go back there and bought it back,” Rose M. said. “I have repeatedly begged him to go into rehab but it’s like to talking to a wall. It’s painful that our kids are growing up seeing their father like this.”
Jon S. grew up with scarred memories of his childhood. Although he doesn’t consider his father abusive, the outbursts toward the family made Jon S. lose respect for his father. “At some point he laid a hand on my mom,” he said. “He kept bragging to me about it. I’m not sure if it’s because of his addiction or if it’s just who he is.”
What he found even more disappointing was how his mother enabled his father’s addiction. “My mom just became a part of his world. She couldn’t tell the difference between right and wrong anymore,” Jon S. said.
Looking back, Jon S. feels like his mother never protected him or his sisters. “I asked my mom to fight for us, but she doesn’t think there’s a problem,” he muttered with his cigarette between his teeth. “She allowed it to happen. Dad chose not to work and she worked three jobs. She’d be so tired and complain about life, but all the money goes to dad. They feed each other’s ego. If there’s something I’m fighting for—like my dad stealing money—she'd dismiss me. She’d be like, ‘What’s wrong with you? I already returned it.’ He stole so much from me. It was things I could let go, but the fact he’ll take it because he thinks he’s entitled.”
His mother’s inactions stem from living in Manila, when their dad was making money from drugs. “When he was a dealer in Manila, we had money and so my mom was complacent. She wasn’t a user, but she’s just as guilty as him,” Jon S. said. “Users banged on our door and windows at 3 a.m. for drugs. I'd get mad at them, but my mom would get mad at me for getting mad at them. They'd ask for aluminum foil to burn the drugs.”
Last year, his father went to the Philippines for a long vacation. “At some point, he was on (President Rodrigo) Duterte’s (hit) list,” Jon S. said, his voice calm yet full of anger. “The cops were looking for him, but they found me. My neighbor had to tell them that I'm not my dad and so they left. My mom asked my dad if it’s true about him being on the list and she took his side—she’s in denial.”
Thinking about his own future, Jon S. has made a drastic decision to shut his father out of his life. “He went to visit my sister in the states and so I'm changing the locks,” he said. “I’m not taking him back.”
The government of Guam has begun to implement plans to expand substance abuse treatment. The Guam Behavioral Health and Wellness Center offers an intensive detox program called “New Beginnings,” with a 16-bed recovery unit that provides comprehensive addiction treatment.
The Bureau of Statistics and Plans administers the Byrne Formula Grant Program in collaboration with Guam's Law Enforcement Entities, Guam's Education System, Guam's Substance Abuse Treatment entity, Guam's Public Housing entity, and Guam's Public Health entity to identify areas of programmatic need related to illicit drugs and violent crime and systems improvement and methods of targeting these areas of need. (With additional reports from Mar-Vic Cagurangan)