Despite strong need, Kauai youth rehab facility remains empty 3 years after construction

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – Construction of the Kauai Teen Treatment and Healing Center was completed three years ago. But the project, mostly funded by taxpayers, has yet to help a single child.

“The empty beds,” former Kauai County Councilman Mel Rapozo said during a tour of the property with Hawaii News Now. “How many lives could we have saved?”

Behind each door in the center, there is a glimpse of what could be: A safe place, a second chance. “So here is the dorm wing,” Rapozo said during the visit. “This will be their home.”

But despite two decades of planning and more than $7 million, it’s a vision that has yet to come true.

Rapozo has spent years advocating for the creation of a drug treatment center for hospitalized youth. It would be the first on the island. “The most difficult part of setting up a project like this is the terrain. It’s construction financing,” Rapozo said. “It’s all here. We are ready.

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So why is no child being helped?

He says that all this time the only thing missing was a service provider.

Initially, Kauai County was supposed to be responsible for finding an agency to run the place after Grove Farm donated the property.

“When the land was given to the county, the condition was very simple,” Rapozo said. “The county was supposed to open this place for our kids in two years.”

But after negotiations with suppliers failed twice, the county council voted to return the property to Grove Farm last month. Meanwhile, drugs are increasingly infiltrating the lives of our young people.

A recently published survey of alcohol, tobacco and other drug use by students in Hawaii showed that approximately 1 in 10 middle and high school students had a probable substance use disorder indicating a craving. treatment.

And young people aren’t just experimenting with alcohol, nicotine and marijuana.

The study showed that students as young as eighth grade also tried methamphetamine, opiates and cocaine.

He also revealed that young people in Kauai use more drugs and alcohol than other parts of the state. “I can’t tell you how many times I received calls from parents. “Mel, help me. We have to help our child,” Rapozo said.

It’s the desperation the Thronas family knows all too well.

“My mother was fighting for this treatment center before my brother died,” Earl Thronas Jr. said. “She was fighting for this place when I was still in prison as an adult.”

Both siblings went to Kapaa High School. That’s when their addiction battles began.

“In no time, we regularly take cocaine at school. Every day,” Thronas said. “As we got older, the drugs kind of progressed in terms of severity.”

When Thronas was 15, he was sent to the mainland for treatment.

“Especially as a teenager, it’s hard to focus on your recovery when you’re already uprooted from your home and thousands of miles away from your family,” he said.

This cycle of addition continued for more than a decade until a fentanyl overdose nearly killed him last year.

Thronas says, “I quit. And I was seven days sober (from drugs) when I found my brother.

For him, walking through the empty corridors of the treatment center hurts his heart. The 28-year-old is now working to become a certified addiction counselor.

“I hope I can become a teen counselor here,” he said.

Rapozo added: “The fact that now it’s back, really in the hands of the community. We don’t have to deal with procurement laws. And we can go out and find the best operator to help our children.

Landowner Grove Farm also wants to open the facility, but needs help with financing.

“Kauai is not lacking in wealth. We just need a little to get this place open,” Rapozo said.

“It will change lives. But we have to start.

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