One pill can kill. Fentanyl kills. Narcan saves lives.
These were just a few of the messages Kealakehe High School students and health care workers were spreading on Tuesday afternoon during a sign waving along Queen Ka‘ahumanu Highway in Kailua-Kona.
About 30 teenagers were joined by Hawai‘i County Mayor Mitch Roth, two Kealakehe High School teachers and seven staff members from Hawai‘i Island Community Health Center to share the message with passing motorists and pedestrians about the dangers of the synthetic opioid.
In the past two months on the Big Island, there have been one confirmed overdose death and two suspected overdose deaths of young victims: a 20-year-old male, an 18-year-old male and a juvenile female teen, said Hawaiʻi Police Department Capt. Thomas Shopay, a member of the county’s fentanyl task force.
“We need to make sure our community had the information they need to make informed choices to keep each other safe,” Roth wrote on his Facebook page Tuesday.
A sign waving is scheduled this afternoon at the Kona Hongwanji in Kealakekua with the youth at the Boys and Girls Club from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m.
In May, Hawai’i County created a Fentanyl Task Force to deal with the growing epidemic of overdose deaths from the deadly drug that is plaguing the nation and claimed the lives of at least seven people on the Big Island in 2021.
Illicit fentanyl is so dangerous because it is 50 times more deadly than heroin. Just a tiny amount of fentanyl, as little as two milligrams (about one grain of Hawaiian salt) can be fatal in a non-opioid-tolerant person.
This is why fentanyl is disproportionately claiming the lives of teenagers and young adults around the country.
Kimo Alameda, the task force leader, said there’s hope and there’s a collaboration among local agencies and the county. The state also is providing support.
Earlier this month, 5,000 boxes of the life-saving naloxone arrived from the state’s Alcohol Drug and Addiction Division to equip not only the Hawaiʻi Island police and fire department personnel but also drug users, people who live with someone at risk for an overdose, and people using opioid pain medication.
The task force is currently developing plans for mass distribution of the naloxone through a drive-through at four different sites islandwide.
Alameda also is conducting fentanyl presentations in schools throughout the county.