Members of the Senate’s Committee on Commerce, Consumer Protection, and Health were given an update of the state’s effort to fight the growing opioid epidemic.

The Senators were joined at the State Capitol on Dec. 1 by members of the House Committee on Health as the State Department of Health (DOH) presented an overview of the opioid initiative plan by DOH Director Dr. Virginia Pressler and Edward Mersereau, Alcohol and Drug Abuse Division Chief.

It is estimated about 150,000 Hawai‘i residents are currently struggling with pain medication addiction. That figure is up from the 50,000 people addicted to opioids a decade ago. There were 56 opioid related deaths in 2016 and 37 of those deaths involved people with prescription painkillers, according to DOH statistics. Although Hawai‘i is ranked the eighth lowest in the nation for opioid mortalities, the impact on the state’s hospitals billed for treatment on opioid-related overdoses is staggering: about $9.8 million in hospital charges in 2016, according to the Hawaii Health Information Corp., a nonprofit that collects health care data for policymaking.

The Legislature granted $200,000 last session to the DOH to develop the opioid plan in collaboration with other state agencies and community groups. The DOH plans to request another $200,000 this coming legislative session.

Opioids are a highly-addictive narcotic commonly used to treat pain prescribed to an estimated 400,000 people in Hawai‘i each year. It takes about three weeks for a patient to become addicted to the drug, which can stop a person’s breathing and heart, resulting in death when combined with alcohol and other depressants.

As with the rest of the country, opioid misuse represents only one facet of the broader addiction problem in Hawai‘i. The Hawaii Opioid Action Plan is intended to be a living document and will be reviewed and adapted by individuals and institutional stakeholders as needed to address opioid and other substance misuse problems in Hawai‘i.

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