Be Proud To Be A Jerk

The average age for Kaua‘i boys having a first alcohol drink is 11, and the youngest person to suffer a meth overdose was 8, so county Anti-Drug Program coordinator Theresa Koki has a big job. Here she displays one of the agency’s posters that discourage adults from buying booze for kids. Coco Zickos Photo

There is a clear problem on the Garden Isle with youth substance abuse, and county Anti-Drug Program leader Theresa Koki is pressing ahead with education and plans for a teen treatment center

There is no such thing as bad kids, just kids who make bad choices, according to Kaua’i County’s Anti-Drug Program coordinator Theresa Koki.

Peer pressure coupled with demanding school schedules makes it hard for youths not to succumb to drugs and alcohol. Having raised four children herself, Koki can empathize with parents today.

“I cannot think of any family that isn’t exposed,” says Koki, a 1978 Waimea High School graduate and Kaua’i Community College alumna.

Alcohol is the No. 1 drug of choice for youths, followed by prescription drugs both of which can be found in their own homes.

“I always had to monitor my kids,” says Koki, who uses her personal experience to lead the island’s antidrug efforts. “I always tried to make sure my kids weren’t at those parties. But our family is human just like anybody else’s.”

Locking up medication and alcohol is one way to curb abuse, in addition to open communication.

Theresa Koki with Anti-Drug Program staff (from left) Rebecca Smith, Kyara Bunao, Lechelle Acia and Noelani Naumu. Coco Zickos photos

“Even good kids drink,” says Koki, the mother of Sheree McCormack, 27, Ciarra Bacarro, 24, Bronson Joel Koki, 22, and Holden James Koki, 18.

In a drug-using and pillpopping society, it’s virtually impossible for children not to be faced with the option of using.

“There’s a drug for everything,” says Koki. “It’s just so easy to escape reality.”

But once kids get hooked, their addiction takes over.

“Nobody wakes up in the morning one day and says, ‘I’m going to take drugs and wreak havoc on society and mess my family up and make my family bankrupt,'” says Koki, a Hanapepe resident. “It is a disease.”

A disease that can grip some youths as young as 8 years old, the age of the youngest methamphetamine overdose recorded on Kaua’i.

Theresa Koki at the County Building

“I was shocked when I was exposed to this field,” says Koki, who notes that the average age of first alcohol use for boys on Kaua’i is 11.

The statistics make it all the more vital to have a Lihu’e drug treatment center for children ages 12 to 18. It’s a controversial topic within the community, but Koki says the need for a treatment facility is long overdue. More than four years have transpired since breaking ground in Hanapepe the original location proposed for a youth treatment center before community outcry halted its development. And it will be another four to five years before the entire process for the new 16-bed treatment facility in Lihu’e will be completed.

“I do want to continue to work with the community in addressing all of their concerns. I don’t blame anybody for fear of the unknown,” she says. “At the same time, I’m really glad Mayor Bernard Carvalho made a decision to move forward.”

Some day, Koki hopes to see an adult treatment center on Kaua’i. Currently, addicts must be put on a waiting list for treatment off-island.

The Koki ohana: Theresa with Sheree, Ciarra, Bronson Joel, Holden James and grandson Nainoah

Doing everything she can to help people overcome their addictions is a fulfilling aspect of her job. Koki has been making a difference as Anti-Drug Program coordinator since the late Mayor Bryan Baptiste hired her in the late 2000s. Prior to that, she worked as the community response specialist for Ka Leo O Kaua’i a community-building program developed by Baptiste.

“We empowered the community to rely not so much on the government, but at the same time we wondered what their concerns were,” she explains about the program that was designed to help alleviate community anxieties.

In fact, the community’s tenacious response to the island’s drug epidemic was how the Anti-Drug Program evolved in 2003. It was one of the many projects led by Baptiste that Koki