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Will Hawai‘i Survive the Opioid Crisis?

Hawai‘i legislature acts preemptively with “Opioid Initiative Action Plan”

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Opioid Crisis

According to the state’s Department of Health, drug poisioning is one of the “leading causes of fatal injuries among Hawai’i Residents”.

The Hawai‘i Opioid Initiative Action Plan is a preemptive attempt to prevent and control a possible increase in opioid-related fatalities. The plan is a paragon for addressing the national “Opioid Crisis” (named by the National Institute on Drug Abuse) by enacting policy that works to change stigmas surrounding drug users. 

In a statement by Governor David Ige,  “Hawaii ranks 43rd in the nation in drug overdose deaths.” A “multi-agency” effort, “the Statewide Action Plan is a comprehensive strategy to aggressively counteract the increased abuse and misuse of opioids in Hawai‘i.” 

The plan’s progressive “paradigm shift” in viewing “addicts” is the reason why this plan of action stands as a model for addressing this crippling crisis.

The Stigma

Drug abusers are removed from society – the homeless, the junkies, the groups that reside in alleys. Google “drug user;” you will see images that ingrain this stereotype. 

The truth is, addicts are people we know well: neighbors, co-workers, friends,  family and potentially ourselves. That being said, access to opioids does not solely come from dealers on the street.  

Highly addictive substances can come from our primary care physicians.

In fact, “nearly half of all U.S. opioid overdose deaths involve a prescription opioid” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Transfusion of Policy Vision

This plan acknowledges the stigma toward drug users. The holistic embodiment of treating users as sufferers rather than criminals is apparent in the policy: 

• Act 217 provides immunity from drug-related charges, such as possession when a person calls for medical assistance in an overdose emergency.

• Act 66 calls for development of an informed consent template by the Department of Health for use by opioid prescribers and limits initial prescription of opioid pain medications to 7 days (with certain exceptions). The purpose of this act is to reduce addiction, overdose and death related to the use of opioids.

These acts indicate that Hawai‘i legislature is objectively and ethically addressing the multifaceted nature of opioid addiction. 

Immunity from possession increases the likelihood of medical attention being provided to those in near-death overdoses. Informed consent sets a precedent between prescriber and patient that addresses the high risk of opioids. 

Will It Hold?

With 60 pages of statistics and facts, the Opioid Initiative Action Plan  is thorough. Legislature, health and social professionals being a part of the drafting also builds the plan’s merit. 

But, what looks good on paper is not always good in reality. 

Totted as a “living-document,” this plan was crafted on theoretical crisis. The state acknowledges that changes to the plan will be necessary in order to prevent the development and progress of the problem. 

Governor Ige, the legislature itself and other affiliates are taking the wheel. The Hawai‘i Opioid Initiative Action Plan is the informed map in hand. With that, our state stands a better chance at tackling a local opioid crisis. 

The full plan has been made available to the public at health.hawaii.gov/substance-abuse/survey/.