HONOLULU (KHON2) — Fentanyl is a synthetic drug often masked in other substances. Officials are seeing it being shipped to Hawaii from the West Coast and Southern Border.
“The threat is definitely here,” said Gary Yabuta, Hawaii High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Executive Director. “We thought it would not reach our Hawaiian shores, but it has reached.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 71,000 people lost their lives to fentanyl last year up from 57,000 in 2020.
Fentanyl has the highest death rate compared to meth, cocaine and prescription drugs.
In Hawaii, the Department of Health said there were 22 fentanyl deaths last year, but DOH said that number is most likely an underestimate.
“We used to say that people who might experiment with something one time, they may have harm from it, but they wouldn’t die,” said Heather Lusk, Hawaii Health & Harm Reduction Center executive director. “Now it can be the first time and they actually die.”
With the fentanyl issue growing in the islands, the HHHRC is taking charge by supplying a life-saving treatment called naloxone.
Naloxone comes in a spray bottle and can be used to treat fentanyl overdoses. The center said if someone isn’t breathing 10 times within one minute, if their lips turn purple or they’re not responding, naloxone can be sprayed in the nose.
“If it doesn’t work we give you another dose to go into the other nasal passage and what it does is it blocks the opioids in the brain and gives a couple hours of relief before the person may go back into an overdose,” Lusk said.
HHHRC distributes naloxone to all of the county police departments and the state’s drug trafficking unit. The demand is skyrocketing.
More than 6,500 naloxone doses were administered in 2021. Five months into this year, they’re on track to surpass that number.
“We’re anticipating doubling the amount of naloxone this year compared to last year, because of that fentanyl,” said Lusk. “I’m glad we’re prepared whether it’s our public health, public safety response. Whether it’s getting people trained with our naloxone out there.”
As law enforcement cracks down on dealers, agencies are focusing on educating the public.
“We have to be extremely cognizant about our children and our youth because they are most susceptible,” said Yabuta. “Because it’s being advertised as being glamorized in social media and they’re the most vulnerable.”
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To learn more about overdoses and how naloxone can help, click here.