Kauai mayor wants island to be test site for controversial mental health plan

Kauai mayor wants island to be test site for controversial mental health plan

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Kauai's mayor wants psychologists to start prescribing drugs to the mentally ill on the Garden Isle.

It’s a controversial practice that’s legal only in five states.

Hawaii lawmakers have repeatedly shot down the idea, saying it’s too risky. But now the mayor’s doubling down ― and offering up Kauai as a test site.

Derek Kawakami says the mental health crisis on Kauai is driving people into homelessness and creating chaos in the community.

He says there aren’t enough psychiatrists to get a handle on the problem, and he wants to give psychologists the opportunity to help.

“On Kauai and many of the neighbor islands we have limited access to mental healthcare, where people can actually get prescribed the medications that can help them get back on their feet,” said Kawakami.

In an effort to get the upper hand on the island’s mental health crisis, Kawakami wants to give psychologists “limited prescriptive authority” so that they can treat the most severe cases of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression.

“Sometimes the state has a hard time grasping things on a big level," he said. "But if they’re looking for a pilot project to show the world or show the state where it can be done, use Kauai.”

Dr. Chad Koyanagi applauds the mayor for thinking outside of the box, but says allowing someone who didn’t go to medical school to prescribe powerful drugs isn’t safe.

“If the person who is prescribing that medication is not adequately trained in what to look for or when to appropriately prescribe there could be some serious, unexpected side effects,” said Koyanagi.

Meanwhile, the mayor says he’s willing to take a calculated risk, adding what’s even more controversial is government does nothing.

“If nothing changes, nothing changes,” said Kawakami. “So let us be that pilot and let us show where we can find these pockets of success. We’re willing to.”

Koyanagi suggested another way to bring mental health treatment to the neighbor islands is through tele-medicine.

“It would be done using a high resolution, encrypted tele-monitoring system," he said.

"The agency providing that service would see the person over TV and provide input to the patient and the treatment team.”

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