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Voices in Prevention

“Voices in Prevention” spotlights people monthly on Maui, Molokai and Lanai who are working in drug use prevention, treatment and recovery, or are affected by substance use. This week features Shari R. Lynn, executive director and clinical supervisor of Ka Hale Pomaika’i on Molokai.

Q: How has the pandemic affected substance use on Molokai?

Lynn: The pandemic was isolating. Isolation is a hallmark of substance use disorder. People using substances will use it as their form of not isolating.

Q: Does substance use also affect COVID risks and outcomes?

Lynn: Meth is a big deal on Molokai. Many people wondered, “Does using meth put you at greater risk for COVID?” Yes, it does. People who come into the hospital for a COVID diagnosis are six times more likely to be positive if they’ve had a previous methamphetamine (meth) use disorder diagnosis. Use of stimulants like meth or cocaine restricts blood vessels, can cause heart arrhythmia and leads to long-term physical effects. People who use them end up getting more of the long-term COVID effects.

Q: How has COVID affected people in recovery at Ka Hale Pomaika’i?

Lynn: We can’t hug or hold hands. We would usually end circles with contact to reduce isolation, and that has been hard with COVID. We are the only ones providing in-person, face-to-face contact. We’ve had several of our clients come in and say they can’t imagine getting through this without having a physical place to come to. Because we are the only facility doing live, in-person, not Zoom, we’ve had a definite increase. We have a lot more people coming than ever before.

Q: What is the biggest barrier to treatment you see people face on Moloka’i?

Lynn: The stigma. And what is stigma? A mark of disgrace. It’s beyond prejudice. Feeling shame, like it’s your fault, or it’s your parents’ fault. And it’s not anybody’s fault. Addiction is not a choice, it’s a disease. Most folks who come to treatment, voluntarily or because of a nudge from a judge, almost every single one of them says “I have feelings of shame and guilt.” Shame comes from being a mistake. One of the hardest things that people in recovery need to learn is that you are not a mistake, even if you made plenty mistakes. Finding blame is not always productive.

Q: What message do you have for those in recovery or considering seeking treatment right now?

Lynn: Recovery is like a bridge from who you used to be, to who you are now. Sometimes it takes a while to get from where you were, to where you want to be; from who you were, to who you are. Almost 35 years ago, I was standing at the edge of that bridge and couldn’t have even imagined. I am happy to be bold and out and courageous about being in long-term recovery. There is hope. Recovery is possible. It is possible to stay recovered and have a wonderful life. It’s not a matter of moral compass or willpower. It’s about being able to realize you’re never alone. The opposite of addiction is connection. Everything good that has happened to me, I want to see happen to others. I can only keep my journey going by helping others.

Q: What is the biggest challenge Ka Hale Pomaika’i is facing?

Lynn: Right now we have plenty challenges. One of the more tangible ones is we are looking to find a new home. We’ve been here for almost 19 years in the same place. And now we are facing a relocation challenge. We have no leads. We need a place to do our programming, including cultural practices and farming. Change is a part of life. We’ve had sad times and we’ve also had great success. This will hopefully open new doors. For the community, for Molokai, for the 20-some people I’ll see in the next hour, we will find a way.

To learn more about Ka Hale Pomaika’i, visit www.kahalepomaikai.org. For more information on the Maui Coalition for Drug-Free Youth, including how to join and current projects, visit www.mcdfy.org or follow @mauicoalitionfordrugfreeyouth on Facebook or Instagram.

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