Largest Big Island heroin bust in past 10 years

 UPDATED 8:10 AM HST May 16, 2012
Cathrine Kessaris Heroin Suspect
KEAAU, Hawaii -

A 58-year-old Puna woman remains in custody after Big Island police discovered more than a pound of black tar heroin in her Orchidlands home last week on Thursday.

Cathrine R. Kessaris was charged Friday with promoting a dangerous drug, drug paraphernalia and owning prohibited weapons. Her bail was set at $1 million, which means she's unlikely to be released as investigators continue to build their case.

Lt. Burt Shimabukuro of the Hawaii County Police Department's Vice Section said there was enough evidence recovered from Kessaris' home at 16-314 Melekule Street to charge her with intent to distribute.

"We recovered a scale, packaging materials and two firearms, along with some cash," said Shimabukuro.

According to court records, Kessaris has two prior felony convictions for drug trafficking in Honolulu in 1989. A spokesman for the Honolulu prosecuting attorney could not say what type of drugs were found in Kessaris' possession, since the records are more than two decades old.

Kessaris' 79-year-old mother, Patsy Knapp, spoke to KITV4 by phone from her home in Temecula, California. She said her daughter was currently taking methadone, a common treatment for people addicted to heroin.

"I'm really kind of shaken up about it," Knapp said of her daughter's arrest.

According to Heather Lusk, the director of a statewide needle exchange program called the CHOW Project, it appears heroin use in Hawaii is on the rise.

In 2010, the Community Health Outreach Work to Prevent HIV/AIDS program, collected and distributed 560,000 syringes. In 2011, the number of syringes rose to 601,000, a 7.3 percent increase from the year before.

"So we're seeing more people come to us and more needles getting exchanged through our services," said Lusk.

The CHOW Project also helps connect heroin addicts with drug treatment programs. Lusk said the number of people seeking such services has also gone up.

"We get them in the next day into methadone treatment, and those numbers or requests have increased dramatically," she said.

Lusk said some heroin users can lead seemingly normal lives while never being detected by colleagues, neighbors or friends.

"People would be very surprised at what we call our functional users," said Lusk. "For example, we have a police officer, a lawyer or different folks that use, but are able to kind of manage their day-to-day responsibilities and go to work."

Kessaris' next scheduled court hearing is May 29 before Judge Glenn Hara of the Third Circuit Court. Arrest records show Kessaris is unemployed.

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