Curbing opioid addiction in the islands

Local News

Hydrocodone and oxycodone are two of the most commonly abused opioids in Hawaii according to emergency room doctor William Scruggs.

Scruggs says opioid addiction has grown significantly worse in the last decade.

“Every emergency department in the state sees this everyday in one way, shape, or form,” Scruggs said. “Either patients who have actually overdosed, to people who are seeking medications inappropriately, to people who are trying to get help for their addictions for these medications. We all see it everyday.”

Addiction doesn’t discriminate. The people being treated come from every background and age group.

“The spectrum really,” Scruggs explained. “The people who are most at risk are actually in their 50s, and it tends not to be a group of people we identify with drug abuse. White males in their 50s in Hawaii are the most at-risk for overdosing themselves with these medications.”

Scruggs admitted that the epidemic is changing the how things work in the field of medicine.

“In this case, it’s kind of spiraled out of control,” Scruggs said. “And now we have to reset how we’re practicing medicine.”

Doctors are worried the problem could escalate.

“Our concern is that as people have a more difficult time obtaining the pain medications,” Scruggs explained, “that they’ll transition to heroin use, which is a very cheap medication that has the same effect as the prescription drugs do but can be much more dangerous.”

Doctors are trying to do what they can to help fix the problem.

“I want people to know physicians understand that this is a big issue,” Scruggs said. “We’re trying and we need from the state.”

Lawmakers are making an effort to combat the problem.

Senator Rosalyn Baker was actively involved in four of the 13 bills moving through the legislature directly related to opioid addiction.

“One of the things that the legislature wanted to do is to make sure we stay ahead of the curve,” Baker said.

One proposal would allow pharmacists to fill prescriptions for a drug that can save the life of someone overdosing.

“Naloxone is what we call an opioid antagonist,” Baker said. “So if somebody is in jeopardy of overdosing, somebody has taken too much, a shot of naloxone will get them out of it… it’s very important that we have, we have it with our first responders we have it with our harm reduction community organizations and it’s very important that somebody who is taking opioids they think they can manage they need to have that in their arsenal just in case.”

Another bill addresses the shortage in resources for people dealing with addiction.

“If we had more substance abuse counselors, more folks in the field who knew how to deal with substance abuse disorders, knew how to help people get onto medical assisted treatments, and to get into recovery in that way, I think we’d make a big impact on having the problem contained and not spread,” the lawmaker explained.

Both Senator Baker and Dr. Scruggs support alternative ways of treating and managing pain.

Companion bills in the House and Senate are continuing to move forward promoting medical marijuana use.

Here is a list of the bills introduced this session dealing with opioid addiction still moving through the legislature:

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