One person was arrested in connection with a suspected fentanyl drug bust in Kona on Tuesday evening, according to the Hawaiʻi Police Department.
The bust was made on the same day a federal agency issued a drug threat bulletin warning a large amount of the synthetic opioid had been shipped to the Big Island.
Hawaiʻi police would not provide further information about the arrest, citing the ongoing investigation.
The drug threat bulletin, issued by Hawai‘i’s High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Agency, stated a shipment of suspected powdered fentanyl and a large amount of rainbow-colored counterfeit pills were smuggled onto Hawaiʻi Island and were being distributed.
HPD confirmed Wednesday in a press release that officers have seen the recent arrival of pills, particularly in West Hawai‘i.
This form of the drug is commonly known as rainbow fentanyl because it resembles candy. Over the last few weeks, HPD Lt. Edwin Buyten said in the release that the Area II Vice section has recovered in excess of 100 rainbow fentanyl pills.
“Rainbow fentanyl is brand new to us here on island,” Lt. Buyten said. It’s a marketing tool for the drug trafficking organizations meant to lure in a younger clientele. That’s concerning due to the danger it places on our island keiki and our community as a whole. With the Halloween season approaching, there’s an increased threat of children mistaking rainbow fentanyl for candy.”
Most illicit fentanyl pills and powders are manufactured in Mexico by drug cartels in laboratories, which are exported to the United States. The concentration of the drug varies widely, however authorities say as little as two milligrams of fentanyl can be fatal in non-opioid-tolerant individuals.
“With the introduction of illicit fentanyl, it is cheaper and more readily available to opioid users,” Buyten said. “It’s flooded the market and it’s more dangerous.”
Hawai‘i’s High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Agency told news outlets in Honolulu that Hawaiʻi Island is seeing the brunt of the fentanyl entering the state.
In 2020, only one of the 24 drug-related deaths on the island was due to fentanyl. In 2021, there were 32 drug-related deaths with seven due to fentanyl. The numbers for 2022 are not available, but in just the past week, HPD said there were three fentanyl-suspected fatal overdoses.
HPD has had recent successful drug busts that have disrupted supply chains from the mainland to Hawaiʻi.
Last year, the Vice section dismantled a local drug distribution organization, which was supplied by a Mexican cartel. Officers recovered 5 pounds of methamphetamine, more than 7,000 fentanyl pills and 1 kilogram of pure powdered fentanyl.
In West Hawai‘i, the department said it recovered an estimated 15,000 fentanyl pills in the past year.
But large amounts of fentanyl in all its forms — including powder, tablet, capsule, solution or rocks — continue to be recovered on the streets.
Lt. Buyten agreed with the federal agency’s assessment that the Big Island was receiving the brunt of the fentanyl in the state, noting Hawaiʻi police have a lighter law enforcement presence than Oʻahu.
To get a hold of the ongoing fentanyl crisis, Lt. Buyten told Big Island Now that HPD needs to get creative in investigating techniques.
“We need to do that as a unified intelligence-based unit with our federal partners,” he added.
HPD has been historically plagued with staffing issues. According to an email received from HPD’s Office of the Chief, there are currently 55 sworn police officer vacancies.
Lt. Buyten said Vice section officers and detectives still are working two to four hours of overtime daily.
He said to eradicate this fatal drug from the community, the officers have to recruit information and be available when that window of opportunity opens to recover drugs.
“A Vice unit is an unconventional unit,” he said. “We need autonomy to operate.”
Area II Criminal Investigation Division Capt. Thomas Shopay said the department is increasing enforcement efforts by leveraging its partnerships with federal law enforcement agencies, including Homeland Security Investigations, the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration.
“These partnerships assist our personnel in the ability to identify traffickers on the mainland who are supplying our community with illicit fentanyl and allow us a greater ability to intercept fentanyl before it hits our streets,” Shopay said.
HPD has been working with various community partners, including the county since May to address the fentanyl crisis. From this partnership, a fentanyl task force was formed to educate the public about the dangers of the drug and how to recognize it.
Authorities advise the public that if they encounter suspicious prescription medication or drugs of unknown origin, do not touch them and notify police at 808-935-3311.
If you have information on suspected fentanyl trafficking contact police at 808-935-3311. Additionally, reports can be made for East Hawaiʻi to the Area I Vice Section tip line at 808-934-8423, or for West Hawaiʻi to the Area II Vice Section tip line at 808-329-0423.