When Carlos Bellotto woke up at Hilo Medical Center five years ago after overdosing on a fentanyl drug mixture, he was angry.
The Puna man was at a Hilo hotel with a friend to use what he was told was a cocktail of opioids that included fentanyl, heroin and methadone. At some point, Bellotto experienced an overdose and would have died if not for paramedics who revived him with the emergency antidote Narcan, generically known as naloxone.
“When they hit you with the Narcan it basically takes the whole high away,” Bellotto told Big Island Now. “It just gives you this jolt and kind of reverses everything. All I thought in my addict head was ‘they just stole my fricken high.’”
After being released from the hospital, Bellotto went back to the same hotel room to use the same drugs, but in smaller doses. At the time, Bellotto said, he’d rather have his 50/50 shot of dying than having his high stolen by the naloxone.
“Just insanity,” he said.
Bellotto has been sober since June 8, 2018. The now 33-year-old has found strength to move past his addiction with the organization Men of Paʻa and its recovery program of ʻaina-based stewardship.
“For me, service has kept me sober, because I really don’t have time for anything else,” Bellotto told Big Island Now.
Even after the overdose, Bellotto said he continued to use drugs for a long time just to feel normal.
“I had to have something in the morning to make me feel I could actually make it through the day,” Bellotto said. “I used to have to have something to make me feel good enough to move, just to get me going, and that’s just to go out there and try to get more stuff to get high.”
After he got out of jail and into recovery in 2018, Bellotto started treatment at Big Island Substance Abuse Council (BISAC) and participated in a 12-step program. It was during treatment where the Puna man said he learned he could choose another way of life.
“I started believing in a power greater than myself,” Bellotto said. “I started working with the community service group the Men of Paʻa. They put me into service so I would get out of my own head and gave me a whole new outlook on life.”
While the adversities never go away, Bellotto said, he learned to listen and be open-minded and to live life on life’s terms.
Iopa Maunakea, the Founder of Men of Paʻa, called Bellotto’s transformation incredible, adding the 33-year-old went from living in the bushes with needles in his arm to being sober with a clear mind.
“The biggest change is the alcohol and drugs, and all its contributing insanity, isn’t controlling him like it was before,” Maunakea said. “It makes my work so rewarding. The foundational work we do when the kane gets better his ʻohana gets better and the community gets better.”
Maunakea and Bellotto have both been aware of what they see as a growing problem of fentanyl use in the community. From Bellotto’s experience, he said it can be mixed, chopped up with other opiates and it makes whatever the drug dealer is selling stronger.
“Sometimes it’s not even heroin theyʻre mixing with it,” Bellotto said. “I’ve seen people scraping the tar off the telephone poles because it’s black and then mixing it up with the fentanyl and then selling that kind stuff.”
Additionally, Bellotto thinks most people are unaware of how strong the synthetic opioid is or the risk that itʻs mixed with the drugs they might be using.
“Since I’ve been in recovery, I’ve had three friends pass away from overdose,” Bellotto said. “I personally believe it had something to do with fentanyl.”
Maunakea said he first learned of fentanyl when it was prescribed to his father in 2017 for pain management. While he had heard of the drug being used on the streets, it wasn’t as prevalent then compared to recent months.
Maunakea thinks the number of fentanyl cases reported is low because it can be hidden in other illegal substances.
“Any new problem scares me. Any new addiction scares me,” Maunakea said. The drug of choice isn’t fentanyl. The drug of choice is ‘more.’”
While all illicit drugs are dangerous, Bellotto said fentanyl takes things to another level given the high likelihood of an overdose. Naloxone can be prescribed at local pharmacies and is available at West Hawaiʻi Community Health Center, BISAC and Kumukahi Health and Wellness Center.
Bellotto encouraged those still battling an addiction to recognize the risks they are taking and get access to naloxone.
Maunakea encouraged those seeking help with their sobriety to call him directly at 808-960-3893.