Hawaii Hit Hard By Heroin

By Victoria Kim 03/15/18

Kauai officials believe heroin has grown in popularity due to a crackdown on painkiller misuse.

woman seated, facing a body of water and mountains

Despite residing more than 2,000 miles from the mainland, opioid abuse is a problem in Hawaii, too.

Authorities on the island of Kauai reported on Sunday that seizures of black tar heroin have increased exponentially since 2015. That year, Kauai authorities seized less than one gram, and in 2016, seized 9.9 grams. But that number skyrocketed in 2017 to 526 grams, and so far this year, 80.8 grams have been confiscated on the island.

Bryson Ponce, assistant chief of the Kauai Police Investigative Services Bureau, explained that more Hawaiians are seeking heroin now that it's harder to access prescription opioids, with federal authorities cracking down on painkiller abuse. Heroin is the alternative, albeit a dangerous one.

“Street drugs are extremely dangerous because they are usually adulterated with other substances like fentanyl or other extremely potent synthetic opioids,” said Kauai Prosecuting Attorney Justin Kollar.

Drug cases are on the uptick, which Kollar says “almost all involve opioids and/or methamphetamine.” And it’s affecting entire communities. “Everyone on Kauai knows or is related to someone struggling with addiction, whether or not they know it,” said Kollar.

Effective prevention is key, and it’s best done early. “The community must do all they can to ensure children never start down this road,” he added. “No one wakes up one day saying, ‘Today I want to become a drug addict.’”

Hawaii overall has seen the increase of drug abuse.

According to the Honolulu Star Advertiser, drug overdose deaths in Hawaii increased by 83% from 2006-2014. Most of these cases involved prescription opioids and heroin, according to the CDC. “There’s definitely been an upsurge in heroin use. We’re seeing more and more cases of people who are getting arrested with methamphetamine and carrying personal amounts of heroin,” said Myles Breiner, a defense attorney based in Honolulu.

According to Hawaii News Now, feds seized more than 18 pounds of heroin earlier this month at Los Angeles International Airport. The drugs, reportedly worth more than half a million dollars, were heading for Honolulu before they were intercepted.

But this won’t stop the flow of heroin destined for Hawaii. Ponce, of the Investigative Services Bureau, said there are more ways to access heroin than ever before: “In addition to these drug being shipped into Hawaii via mail services, they are also being transmitted via the dark web on the internet. People are now using cryptocurrency to purchase these dangerous drugs.”

To meet the growing need for recovery support and treatment services on Kauai, the island will open its first treatment facility, the Adolescent Treatment and Healing Center, this November.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr