Fentanyl meeting addresses youth addiction, rising amount of drug found on Big Island

Concerned community members gathered at the Clem Akina Park Community Center on Thursday for a presentation about addiction and the dangers of fentanyl.

Representatives from the East Hawaii Drug Free Coalition, the Hawaii Health and Harm Reduction Center, Blue Zones Project, West Hawaii Community Health Center, Hawaii Police Department and several other organizations were in attendance, stressing the statistic that every 13 days, someone on the Big Iceland dies from a drug overdose, mostly associated with fentanyl.

“This is an islandwide issue,” said Bay Clinic CEO Kimo Alameda, who led the “Choose Not To Use” presentation.

“Fentanyl is now the number one cause of death for Americans between the ages of 18 and 45,” he said.

The fentanyl task force, consisting of public and private institutions, is focused on addressing the youth, citing addiction as a pediatric disease that starts in early childhood. The presentation stated 90% of individuals struggling with addiction reported using drugs before the age of 18.

“How we frame addiction is important,” Alameda said, suggesting those wanting to experiment should wait. “Wait until you’re 25, when at least your brain is fully developed. At least then you can give your brain a chance. So, to our youth: Be kind to your mind.”

The Hawaii Police Department has seen an increase in the presence of fentanyl, with police recovering 1,352 counterfeit oxycodone pills containing fentanyl mailed from Washington to Kailua-Kona in June.

“Prior to 2020, annual statewide seizures of fentanyl were less than one pound,” Captain Thomas A. Shopay of HPD said in a press release. “But from 2020 to 2021, Hawaii Island was responsible for roughly 30 pounds of the state’s overall 53 pounds of fentanyl seizures.”

Ingesting just 0.002 grams of the drug results in “certain death,” according to the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics.

“The increase is troubling because very small amounts of the fentanyl, sometimes an amount equivalent to a few grains of salt, can be fatal,” Shopay said.

Alameda addressed the increased presence of the drug during the presentation.

“There’s been an 81% increase on the Big Island of overdose deaths in the most recent 18 months,” he said.

The presentation also included a demonstration about the application of Narcan, a medication used to treat overdoses.

“It’s a miracle medication that we have now to keep people alive,” said Alameda. “It’s basically harmless, too. If you use it on someone who isn’t on fentanyl, it doesn’t hurt that person.”

Local resources for addiction listed by the task force include: West Hawaii Community Health Center, Bay Clinic, Big Island Substance Abuse Council, Lokahi Treatment Centers, the Hawaii Health & Harm Reduction Center and the Coordinated Access Resource Entry System, or CARES line, which can be reached at (808) 753-6879.

Email Grant Phillips at gphillips@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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