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The Conversation

Police Chief, recovering addict on increased fentanyl and opioid abuse on Kauaʻi

Aaron Hoff of the Keala Foundation
Courtesy Keala Foundation
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Aaron Hoff of the Keala Foundation

The Drug Enforcement Agency announced it has arrested more than 800 people as part of a two-month-long crackdown on online sales of illegal drugs. Agents seized nearly 2 million pills laced with the synthetic opioid fentanyl.

The news comes as the Kauaʻi Police Department issued a warning this week about the increase of fentanyl use on The Garden Isle. The Conversation talked to two residents with eyes on the situation: Police Chief Todd Raybuck and Keala Foundation founder Aaron Hoff.

"The danger with fentanyl is, in the illicit form, it's 100 times more powerful than morphine. Just two milligrams of fentanyl can cause an overdose," Raybuck said. "One teaspoon of salt is 2,300 milligrams — and only two milligrams of fentanyl could cause a fatal overdose."

"So we're seeing this, unfortunately, being used both intentionally and, unfortunately too, I think we're seeing people who are unknowingly ingesting it because it's cut into other drugs that are taken by mistake," Raybuck said.

According to Raybuck, the opioid addiction and overdose issue has been a growing problem in the country for the last decade. But in a press release Wednesday, the police department was only able to touch on the increase in fentanyl-related incidents over the last few months.

"Last year we saw two confirmed synthetic opioid overdose deaths. And already in 2021, we have two confirmed, along with several suspected overdoses that we're awaiting toxicology reports," Raybuck told The Conversation.

Last week, two women at Kapaʻa Ball Park were reported unconscious. Police said both women exhibited signs of a drug overdose. One was not breathing and the other was having labored, shallow breathing.

"Fortunately, an off-duty police officer and an off-duty nurse had already started performing life-saving measures before the officers arrived," the police chief said.

Both women survived after officers administered Narcan, a nasal spray used in emergencies to treat suspected opioid overdoses, police said.

Also standing up against the latest wave of illicit drugs to hit our islands is Aaron Hoff.

He started the Keala Foundation after recovering from a 10-year addiction to drugs and alcohol. He's been clean and sober for nearly 25 years and has spent much of that time helping others recover from addiction.

"The stuff that's coming in now, if it's not from a doctor or if it's prescribed, the chances of them getting a fake pill that has fentanyl in it is highly possible," Hoff said. "If you read in that police report, there were 18 episodes of Narcan use in the past month. So that means there were 18 people who were dead or dying, that had to be revived with Narcan — and five of them didn't make it."

"When you get hooked on drugs, it doesn't just affect the drug addict, the whole entire family becomes sick. And it destroys the fabric of the community," Hoff said.

If you are addicted to opioids, or know someone who is, resources to get help and prevent overdose are available at the Hawaii Opioid Initiative.

Dead on Arrival - a documentary on the dangers of fentanyl use.

This interview aired on The Conversation on Oct. 1, 2021.

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