As fentanyl-tainted drugs proliferate, Hawaii sees record number of overdose deaths and a disturbing trend

Narcotics claimed 320 lives last year in Hawaii, making 2022 the most deadly year on record.
Published: May. 11, 2023 at 3:37 PM HST|Updated: May. 15, 2023 at 1:51 PM HST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Narcotics claimed 320 lives last year in Hawaii, making 2022 the most deadly year on record, according to newly-released figures from the Medical Examiner’s Office.

And officials aren’t just concerned about the spike in overdoses.

Autopsy reports also revealed a disturbing new trend — more and more toxicology reports showing that people died with a mixture of different drugs in their system.

That means it’s not clear whether they knew exactly what they were taking.

One recent case underscores the danger. On April 4, Honolulu EMS responded to an overdose call on Kapiolani Boulevard. A man and a woman were found unresponsive. Law enforcement sources say the couple thought they were taking cocaine, but the drugs were laced with fentanyl, a much more potent opioid.

Both people survived, but others aren’t so lucky.

“You don’t know what you’re taking these days,” said Gary Yabuta, head of Hawaii’s High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area. He said deaths associated with mixing drugs, also know as polysubtance use, are on the rise.

And, he add, it’s being done unintentionally.

“People need to realize that anything sold outside of a pharmacy could be tainted,” Yabuta said.

The new data from the Medical Examiner showed of the 320 people who died of an overdose last year, about a third had multiple drugs in their systems.

Got a tip? Email
Got a tip? Email News Now)

Yabuta says the most prevalent combination turning up on toxicology reports is meth and fentanyl. Other common mixtures include fentanyl and cocaine, fentanyl and heroin and counterfeit pills laced with fentanyl.

“Fentanyl is the most highly potent synthetic opioid you can get — 50 times stronger than heroin,” said Yabuta.

Yabuta says the dramatic increase in polydrug overdoses is what prompted officials to start tracking deaths linked to specific combinations of drugs. This year is the first time data has ever been this specific.

In the meantime, he says every household should have Narcan in their medicine cabinet.

“It’s the only reversing agent or medicine to reverse the effects of an overdose from opioids,” Yabuta said.

If you’re interested in getting a free bottle of Narcan Nasal spray, click here.