HONOLULU (KHON2) — A new record for drug overdoses in the United States was set in 2021, with more than 107,000 lives lost.
In the islands, we’re not immune from the trend, where overdose deaths have grown by 37% since 2015, and officials are concerned about a new drug mixture.
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“I’ve been in the criminal justice system for 43 years. I’ve never seen the drug problem as bad as it is now,” Hawaii High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Executive Director Gary Yabuta said.
The middle of May marks a year since Hawaii lost Colt Brennan to an overdose. His toxicology report found a mixture of fentanyl and methamphetamine in his system. It’s a combination Yabuta says is growing.
“A lot of users would use the methamphetamine during the day. And when it’s time to get to bed and go to sleep at night they would take the opioids to inject them and bring them down again. But a lot of that you see is this combination drugs and for whatever reason, there’s a specific high a specific pleasure from taking both at the same time,” Yabuta said.
The high can be very dangerous.
“Our physicians here in Hawaii are reporting that you have a lot of poly-drug overdose patients and come in and they can treat the opioids with Narcan, but there’s nothing much they can do for the methamphetamine,” Yabuta said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control methamphetamine contributed to most of Hawaii’s 2021 OD deaths with 168, followed by 81 opioid deaths.
Yabuta says the drug trade starts with Mexican cartels bringing the drugs in via parcels, airplanes, or cargo ships. From there it trickles down to dealers, users, and even children.
“Our youth are being exposed online and through social media to try drugs. And we had a 14-year-old girl that lost her life on the Big Island for trying drugs that she thought was for the first time to be cocaine turned out to be fentanyl,”
Parents and children are encouraged to educate themselves about the current drug landscape’s dangers.
“It’s a candy store out there for these kids. They’re at an extreme disadvantage because it’s so marketable nowadays. And so parents and children all have to engage in learning about what drugs are out there, and then make the choice,” Yabuta said.
Help is on the horizon. The Biden administration is launching a national drug control strategy based on preventing overdoses and getting them to care facilities. According to the Hawaii Department of Health, there are 23 adult drug treatment facilities in the islands for adults and 9 for children. They’re working on expanding that to even more.
“I don’t think you ever feel like you ever have enough,” DOH Alcohol and Drug Abuse Division’s Jared Yurow said.
He points to the Support Act, which was recently passed to expand opioid treatment recovery services.
“We at the Hawaii Alcohol and Drug Abuse Division are meeting both with our state Medicaid office, as well as with various provider agencies and stakeholders to talk about how capacity in fact can be increased.”
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As capacity is ramped-up, Yurow says help is also available through the DOH’s Hawaii Cares line.
“That’s really critical. The earlier you can do that the earlier you can get help the much more likely to benefit from that.”