FOR a chilling glimpse into the future of drugs in America, substance-abuse experts recommend taking a look at the ``ice'' crisis in Hawaii. Throughout this sun-dappled archipelago, thousands of drug users are hooked on the prolonged highs and violent lows produced by a smokable form of ``speed'' known as crystal methamphetamine, or, simply, ``ice.''
Imported and distributed mainly by Korean and Filipino mafias, the drug has swept like a hurricane through Hawaii and seems ready to roll onto the mainland, according to law-enforcement officers and drug-abuse experts.
Ice is considered more addictive and dangerous than other drugs.
Unlike ``crack'' cocaine, which must be smuggled into the United States from South America, the synthetic drug can be manufactured easily and cheaply in the growing number of clandestine laboratories now used to make speed, the powdered form of methamphetamine.
Ice vs. `crack' cocaine
US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officials privately express the concern that the spread of ice will be so fast and furious that it could make the crack crisis look minor by comparison.
An internal DEA report written in early October issues this sober warning:
``Should the methodology of the production of ice become readily available to domestic laboratory operators, what may result is ... nostalgia [for] the `good old crack days.'''
The black humor was quickly justified.
On Oct. 12, DEA agents in New York captured two Korean dealers with 900 grams of ice. It was the first reported seizure on the East Coast and by far the largest such bust in the continental US. One dealer told DEA officials that he could funnel up to 20 kilograms (44 pounds) a month into the US, worth nearly $10 million.
So far, there are only small pockets of ice use in cities on the East and West Coasts. But if shipments of this dimension were introduced, experts say, the crystal craze could take off - just as it has in Hawaii. Hawaii's No. 1 illicit drug
Virtually nonexistent on the islands before the first documented seizure in August 1985, ice now easily surpasses cocaine and marijuana as Hawaii's No. 1 illicit drug.
``It is an epidemic here,'' says Dr. Joseph R. Giannasio, director of the Castle Medical Center's Alcohol and Addictions Program in Honolulu.
``No one can say it's inevitable that [the ice crisis] will hit the mainland,'' Dr. Giannasio says. ``But it's realistic to be concerned about it.''
The odorless crystal, which resembles rock candy, has attracted users mainly because its effects last longer - and no needles are necessary. The typical tenth-of-a-gram bag of ice, called a ``paper,'' costs $50 and can keep a beginning user high for anywhere from eight hours to a few days. The rush from a typical $10 dose of crack often lasts less than 20 minutes.
Jocelyn, a gum-chewing 15-year-old sophomore at Maui High School, says she experienced a two-day high the first time she smoked ice last year. Her classes were a blur.
Nothing seemed to matter except getting more ice. So, she says, she began stealing money from family and friends to pay for it.
But one day, as she felt a dreamy high turn into a nightmarish low, Jocelyn took a razor blade and severely slashed her left thigh.
``I didn't know what I was doing,'' she says. ``I freaked out.''
Finally, the troubled teenager cried out for help - and received it, first from a school counselor, then from an intensive drug-treatment program. She now boasts: ``I've been clean for six months.''
Burned-out users like Jocelyn are besieging treatment facilities across the state. Not all of them, however, are finding her measure of success.
Unlike the side effects of other drugs, drug-abuse specialists say, ice's symptoms range from extreme paranoia to lung and kidney disorders that can affect ice users for years after they've kicked the habit.
Welfare officials add that ice addiction has been easily transmitted to newborns, causing a sharp rise in ``crystal babies.''
No one knows how many people on the islands are using ice. But the number of arrests in Honolulu for its use or possession has jumped from 203 last year to 451 through September of this year, according to Lt. Roy Helepololei of the Honolulu Police Department.
Even on the sheltered island of Maui, seizures of ice have jumped from zero in 1988 to 20 so far this year.
In all but one of the busts, police officers found weapons ranging from pistols to AK-47 assault rifles and grenades.
The violent underworld of the ice trade has been the target of a year-long investigation by a special drug-enforcement task force in Honolulu.
Preliminary evidence suggests that Hawaii's largest ice ring - run by a Filipino named Paciano Guerrero - has used a clandestine, Korean-run lab in Portland, Oregon.
After making the ice, Korean chemists send the drug via Seattle to Mr. Guerrero's gang of Filipino distributors on the islands.
In October, Guerrero was sentenced to 25 years without parole for trafficking the drug. But even after the kingpin's capture, ice continues to flow.
Says one DEA agent in Honolulu:
``When one network goes down, others fill the void.''