Throughout the United States, we are continuing to experience the deadly and pervasive opioid epidemic. Fortunately, Hawaii has not experienced the same level of devastation that we have seen on the mainland. Nevertheless, we must continue to work to prevent opioid abuse and opioid-related deaths.

Though mortality rates for opioid-related deaths are generally lower in Hawaii compared to the U.S. as a whole, these numbers are not insignificant. Since 2007, more Hawaii residents have died each year from opioid overdoses than from automobile accidents.

Fentanyl, a lethal opiate responsible for a substantial increase in overdoses on the mainland, has recently begun to appear more frequently in Hawaii. Fentanyl is a deadly synthetic opioid that is 80 to 100 times more potent than morphine. It is so powerful that only 2 milligrams – an amount equivalent to a grain of sand – can be deadly.

Kauai police have reported finding increasing amounts of opioid drugs like those in these evidence photos, using tactics that even include sending drug sniffing dogs into post offices and UPS and FedEx depots.

Courtesy of Kauai County

China is the principal source of global fentanyl production. Drug traffickers ship fentanyl manufactured in China to Mexican drug cartels and drug dealers on the Canadian border, who then smuggle the drugs into America. Fentanyl is also shipped from China to the United States through the U.S. Postal Service.

The federal government has designated the main islands of Hawaii as a “High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.” An area is designated as a HIDTA when the area is a significant center of illegal drug production, manufacturing, importation, or distribution. Hawaii’s close proximity to Chinese production sources means we must remain vigilant.

Because of our state’s location, drug abuse trends often take longer to reach Hawaii. This gives us a unique opportunity to create and implement proactive defenses against the opioid crisis.

In 2017, Gov. David Ige tasked the Hawaii Department of Health, along with stakeholders from the public and private sectors, to develop and implement a statewide strategy to address the opioid crisis. The Hawaii Opioid Initiative is a comprehensive plan focusing on essential components such as access to treatment, pharmacy-based interventions, prescriber education, prevention and public education, and support for law enforcement and first responders. This plan is currently being implemented and is a “living document” that evolves as the needs and focuses of the state evolve.

Steps to combat the opioid crisis have also been taken at the federal level. Last year the Support for Patients and Communities Act was signed into law. This legislation contained several provisions focused on improving treatment, preventing opioid addiction, and better drug monitoring. One of the principal provisions of the act is a requirement that the U.S. Postal Service must scan incoming packages from overseas for opioids.

This legislation was a significant step in the right direction, but we can and must do more to protect Americans. Congress should pass the Stopping Overdoses of Fentanyl Analogues Act. This bill would close a loophole that currently allows fentanyl traffickers to evade prosecution. It would do so by allowing the DEA to proactively classify all new types of fentanyl as Schedule I controlled substances. This would give law enforcement additional tools necessary to prosecute those responsible for manufacturing and distributing these deadly drugs. The attorneys general of all 50 states support the SOFA Act.

Our fight against the opioid epidemic is not over and we must continue to use all available resources to protect our communities from these lethal drugs.

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