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Local advocates hope to reduce the stigma around drug overdoses

International Overdose Awareness Day Aug 31 2022
Ku'uwehi Hiraishi
/
HPR
Advocates gather at the Hawaiʻi State Capitol for International Overdose Awareness Day on Aug. 31, 2022.

Dozens of advocates in purple shirts and waving purple flags lined South Beretania Street at the Hawaiʻi State Capitol on Wednesday to mark International Overdose Awareness Day.

They hoped to bring attention to the dangers of drug overdoses in the islands and reduce the stigma around drug-related deaths.

Kekoa Kealoha was there with a sign that says “Not one more lost.”

"Mine is really about highlighting the fact that overdose kills people and that people are people. Everybody means something to somebody else. I myself have lost about six people to overdose. But I’m an addict in recovery and so that’s just part of my community," Kealoha told HPR.

Advocates gather at the Hawaiʻi State Capitol for International Overdose Awareness Day on Aug. 31, 2022.
Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi
/
HPR
Advocates gather at the Hawaiʻi State Capitol for International Overdose Awareness Day on Aug. 31, 2022.

Anika Martin recalls nearly losing her father to a drug overdose when she was just 5 years old.

"I saw my dad walking into the hallway, completely collapse and start to seize, his eyes rolling back, and putting my little hands over the top of his head to stop himself from getting hurt because he was banging his head against the wall," she said.

Fortunately, the paramedics arrived and her father is still here today.

Stories like that help reduce the stigma around overdoses, says Donita Garcia, who’s been in recovery for 11 years.

"A year after getting clean and sober, I was 56 years old and I did what they told me to do, change everything. I went to college. I got three degrees. It’s been amazing. So my advice is don’t treat them bad, help the addict. Don’t look down on them. They need a helping hand," Garcia said.

One of the most effective tools to combat overdoses is a medicine known as naloxone or Narcan, says Dr. Christina Wang, medical director at Hawaiʻi Health & Harm Reduction Center, or H3RC. The medication comes in nasal spray form and can rapidly reverse an opioid overdose.

"H3RC hands out Narcan so you can either visit our website or you can come into our office and get training and get access. There’s two intranasal doses that are in a little ziplock with instructions on how to use it and how to train another, so please come and save a life," Wang told HPR.

Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi is a general assignment reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Her commitment to her Native Hawaiian community and her fluency in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi has led her to build a de facto ʻōiwi beat at the news station. Send your story ideas to her at khiraishi@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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