HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Fentanyl is now the nation’s deadliest drug, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The powerful synthetic opioid has recently been found in street drugs in Hawaii.
"We're now seeing that some of the methamphetamine here has been laced with fentanyl, and we're really alarmed about that because it's causing overdose deaths in some people," said Alan Johnson, president and CEO of Hina Mauka.
Johnson says fentanyl has been linked to about half of the meth overdoses nationwide, including Hawaii.
The synthetic opioid is prescribed to terminally ill patients or people with severe chronic pain because its estimated to be up to 100 times stronger than morphine.
But the CDC says many people are using fentanyl illegally, and overdose deaths caused by the drug more than doubled every year from 2013 to 2016 nationwide.
"You stop breathing, you go unconscious, go into a coma and die. So it's very, very powerful and very dangerous. The first responders (on the mainland) now wear protective equipment because fentanyl is so powerful," Johnson said.
Through the Hawaii Opioid Initiative, a statewide taskforce, health officials say they've been working with their partners to prevent this from becoming an epidemic locally.
“We have been extremely proactive in the last two years of really looking at what can we do to prevent, treat, and address substance abuse across the board, especially opioids,” said Edward Mersereau, acting deputy director of the health department’s behavioral health administration.
Mersereau says first responders are now equipped with a medication to reverse opioid overdoses, and soon he says it will be available over the counter in pharmacies.
He says they also worked to improve data sharing between public health officials and law enforcement, as well as launching the state's drug drop box program.
"People can drop unused medication into those secured drop boxes, which allows us to diminish and reduce potential diversion of people who are seeking drugs," Mersereau said.
This is the first time fentanyl has been declared the nation’s deadliest drug. Heroin topped the list for the previous four years.