The Hawai‘i County Fentanyl Task Force is hosting a press conference on Friday to announce a “breakthrough intervention” that will potentially decrease the demand for deadly and illicit opioid use.
For officers with the Hawai‘i Police Department’s vice sections, any help is welcome.
They are on the front lines of battling the fentanyl crisis that is killing Big Island residents.
“For whatever reason, we have a thirst out here for opioids,” Lt. Edwin Buyten told the Hawai’i County Council on Wednesday during a Communications, Reports and Council Oversight committee meeting.
Buyten and Sgt. Chad Taniyama of the West Hawai’i vice section updated the council about the fentanyl crisis, which has hit the Big Island the hardest of all the Hawaiian Islands, according to Gary Yabuta, Director for Hawai‘i’s High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Agency.
Buyten said the vice detectives are regularly recovering fentanyl, which is 100 times stronger than morphine and 50 times stronger than heroin. They also are seeing a lot of fentanyl laced in marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine.
From November 2021 to the present, 4,000 grams of fentanyl and 15,000 counterfeit fentanyl pills have been confiscated off West Hawai‘i streets, Buyten said.
“About $2.5 million worth of fentanyl came into your village, your community right here in just a little over a year’s time,” Buyten said.
In the past year, 50 to 60 adults have been arrested in relation to fentanyl, with most cases prosecuted in federal courts, Buyten said.
Taniyama said the Hawaiʻi Police Department leads the state in fentanyl investigations and recoveries.
But a big tactical issue they face is a lack of personal protective equipment — masks, masks with filters, gloves and scuba-type suits — to reduce the risk of exposure to the deadly drug.
“We’ve had several search warrants where we’ve had to beg, borrow or steal equipment,” Taniyama said. “We’ve had to call Honolulu, other agencies. We’ve had people flying on personal airlines to hand us over equipment so we can do our job.”
Buyten said the department has applied for grants to fund the purchase of the safety equipment, but things move slowly. He added the protective equipment costs up to $30,000 to outfit one officer.
Councilmember Holeka Inaba asked if the issue of personal protective equipment was well-known so it could be budgeted.
Taniyama said the lack of equipment is no secret, adding “it terrifies me to supervise a group of young officers and send them to a place where I knows it’s not if, but when one of my officers will encounter fentanyl and get hurt.”
Council member Michelle Galimba asked the officers how fentanyl is impacting her district, where she represents communities between Kealakekua to Volcano.
Buyten said his vice officers stay busy in Ocean View.
The Hawai‘i County Fentanyl Task Force meeting will take place at 11 a.m. on Friday at the Hawai‘i Island Community Health Center, 450 Kīlauea Ave. in Hilo. The meeting also will be available to view virtually through Zoom. Click here to watch the event.