HONOLULU (KHON2) — Law enforcement and community organizations are sounding the alarm, they said fentanyl overdose deaths are increasing and that more needs to be done to curb the spread of the deadly drug, including more funding.
Between 2021 and 2022 there has been a jump in fentanyl-related deaths in the state from 48 to 79, officials said there are no signs fentanyl overdoses will slow down this year.
The Hawaii High Density Drug Trafficking Area Executive Director Gary Yabuta said there are concerns drugs laced with fentanyl are also being experimented within the youth.
Yabuta said, “You think you know what you’re taking these days, do you think you’re really snorting cocaine or even marijuana because anything, anything could be tainted to fentanyl today.”
The Hawaii County Island Police Lt. Ed Buytin said fentanyl is entering the state through maul packages, cargo shipments, and even people carrying them on planes.
HPD alone has recovered over 7,000 fentanyl-laced pills and nearly 1,000 grams this year. But once a drug bust happens, traffickers change their tactics.
“As soon as the subjects who are trying to push out that out into our community figure it out, they go to a new method,” Buytin said. “They might go to a decentralizing variety of pack of mules, which would basically be human traffickers.”
Police and community organizations combating the spread of fentanyl know they cannot arrest their way out of this crisis, public awareness and more education as well as addiction treatment for this highly addictive drug could make a bigger difference.
The Hawaii Island Fentanyl Task Force Executive Director Dr. Kevin Kunz said they work to provide access to prevention and treatment of the drug.
Dr. Kunz said, “Create awareness, give education and start the prevention effort that is the only way we’re to get out of this.”
But he said the task force is currently underfunded. He said the current direct funding was from a surplus from a fentanyl summit.
He said, “We have $13,000 that was left over, we used that for brochures, we used that for flyers and things like. That it’s really not enough.”
Dr. Kunz said they are counting on funding from a national opioid settlement to reach them. The Department of Health said $17.4 million of that settlement money will reach Hawaii this year.
In a statement, the DOH said, “The $81 million in settlement funds will be distributed over 19 years, with a large portion front-loaded in the first few years. This year $17.4 million was received, with a portion going to the counties based on population. The remainder is distributed based on needs identified in an assessment and reviewed by an advisory group.”
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The Hawaii Island Fentanyl Task Force requested funding through the Hawaii County Mayor’s Office. The DOH said they are in the process of distributing funds to the county.