State Drug Abuse and Prevention Strategy Planning Group Convened

Jul 12, 2017

Strategic Planning Group, Seated L-R: Dr. Judy Mohr Peterson, administrator of Med-QUEST; Rep. Gregg Takayama; Dr. Ginny Pressler, director, Department of Health; Sen. Jill Tokuda; Rep. Della Belatti; Sen. Josh Green. Standing, L-R: Dr. Alvin Bronstein, chief of EMS and Injury Prevention; Dan Galanis, state Epidemiologist; Eddie Mersereau, division chief at Alcohol & Drug Abuse Division.
Credit Wayne Yoshioka

The state officially launched a multi-governmental initiative today to address drug abuse prevention in Hawai’i. HPR’s Wayne Yoshioka reports.

Drug Poisoning is the leading cause of fatal injuries in Hawai’i, surpassing death by motor vehicles dating back ten years.  Department of Health director, Dr. Ginny Pressler, is heading a strategic planning group to leverage federal resources and address drug abuse prevention and treatment.

“We have been fortunate in getting some federal dollars adding up to almost $10 million through multiple sources to address the opioid addiction problem.  And we are using that opportunity to pull all the parties involved in this issue to address addiction in a broader context.”

Hawai’i ranks 43rd in the nation for drug overdose deaths.  But, State Epidemiologist, Dan Galanis, says 23 percent of fatal injuries in Hawai’i over the last 5 years were drug overdoses.

“The peak ages for both fatal overdoses and overdoses that have a nonfatal event , 45-to-60 and slightly higher for males.  You don’t see much in residents under the age of 18 years of age, but from 20 up to 50 is comparable throughout that sort of age range.”

Senator Josh Green is an Emergency Room Doctor at Kohala Hospital on the Big Island.  He says a more comprehensive approach to prevention is required.

“Fifty percent of all the pills that get into people’s bodies don’t even come from the prescription that came from a provider, nurse practitioner or doctor.  We know kids in Hilo getting pills, dollar a milligram.  They buy the pills, they crush them and put them into Coca Cola and then we see the overdoses at schools and kids get wheeled into my ER.”

Green says 10 percent of Americans have a drug addiction problem.   Representative Della Au Belatti chairs the House Health Committee.  She says the legislature has enacted laws to limit the number of narcotic pain pills that can be prescribed and also implemented a drug monitoring program.   Now, she says, it’s time for a more comprehensive plan.

“It’s so important here to have all the public health agency branches within the Department of Health, the medical community, as well as people who are on the front lines in the health care clinics, in the substance abuse treatment programs to which things like the drug courts are referring people to.  So this really is across executive and judicial branches so that we’re treating this as a public health problem and making sure people are getting the treatment that they need.”

The Strategic Planning Group will develop recommendations for the upcoming legislative session scheduled to adjourn in January.  Dr. Pressler says the group’s approach is to take the initiative.

“The really important aspect of what we’re doing here today is to look at all addiction as a chronic disease.  And I’m very excited that Hawai’i, we’re getting ahead of the whole problem, so that we can take a very proactive approach before this becomes as big a problem as it is in other states in the nation.”

According to the State Department of Health, on average,13 people die each month in Hawai’i from drug poisoning.   Wayne Yoshioka, HPR News.