State and county officials on Tuesday outlined plans to combat Hawaii’s opioid epidemic with its $78 million share of nationwide settlements reached with pharmaceutical companies.

Gov. David Ige said 85% of the money will go toward treatment, prevention and education about the dangers of opioid addiction, while the rest will go toward addressing problems with other substances. However, few other details were provided as the governor said officials must conduct a statewide assessment of needs first.

The announcement came months after a $26 billion settlement was reached with three major pharmaceutical distributors – Cardinal Health, McKesson, and AmerisourceBergen — and drugmaker Johnson & Johnson over their role in the nationwide addiction crisis.

Ige said that Hawaii ranked 37th in the nation in drug overdose deaths. He also said that the state’s drug overdose deaths exceeded traffic fatalities this year.

Governor David Ige holds a press conference announcing bills he intends to veto.
Gov. David Ige announced how the $78 million settlement will be spent. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

“Our nation is facing a serious opioid crisis that is claiming the lives of thousands of people, plunging families into tragedy and taking a devastating toll on society,” Ige said at a joint news conference with the mayors of Honolulu and Maui. “While Hawaii often experiences public health trends well after they occur on the mainland, warning signs are appearing.”

According to the state Department of Health, opioids contributed to 35% of drug overdose deaths, or 778 deaths, from 2010 to 2014.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also has reported a nationwide increase.

“The new data show overdose deaths involving opioids increased from an estimated 70,029 in 2020 to 80,816 in 2021,” according to the CDC. “Overdose deaths from synthetic opioids (primarily fentanyl), psychostimulants such as methamphetamine, and cocaine also continued to increase in 2021 compared to 2020.”

Hawaii’s portion of the overall settlement was determined by a formula taking into account population and the impact of the opioid crisis on the state. It includes about $63 million over 18 years from the settlement with the three major distributors and $15 million over nine years from Johnson & Johnson, officials said.

An advisory committee of county and state representatives will decide how to spend 85% of the money statewide, while the counties will decide how to use 15% of the funds locally, according to an agreement signed by the state, the City and County of Honolulu, Maui, Hawaii island and Kauai.

Ige said officials “will embark on a statewide needs assessment” to direct the money where it’s needed most.

Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi and Maui Mayor Mike Victorino emphasized the importance of funding prevention and education efforts.

“We will do everything we can to help with this fight,” Blangiardi said at the news conference. “We really need to educate our people and help our communities.”

Blangiardi and Victorino said they would work with their city/county councils to determine how the money will be spent.

“We stand together united to fight opioid addiction and ensure that our families, children and spouses and coworkers don’t become victims of drug addiction and misuse,” Victorino said. “We will expend every dollar and make sure it is used in a proper way.”

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