Hawai‘i County plans to use opioid settlement funds for detox center in Hilo
The fentanyl epidemic continues to devastate Hawai‘i Island with one resident dying every 11 days from an opioid overdose.
But some help is on the way. As part of a nationwide opioid settlement with pharmaceutical companies, the State of Hawaiʻi will receive $81.4 million over the next 18 years, with $489,000 allotted directly to the Big Island this year — and additional annual payments of $110,000 over that time period.
So what will Hawaiʻi County do with its share? For starters, build the Big Island’s first detox center.
“If your family was going through drug addiction, where would you want them to go through detox?” Hawai’i County Mayor Mitch Roth said. “Probably not a jail house.”
And also probably not in O’ahu, away from support.
During a press conference on Thursday, Hawai’i County and community leaders said they had already identified a place for the detox center, in a building located across the street from the Hilo courthouse.
Hannah Preston-Pita, chief executive officer for the nonprofit agency Big Island Substance Abuse Council, said setting up a detox center will cost $1.4 million. They are working on getting permits to renovate it.
Initial plans for the Big Island’s portion of the settlement funding also will go toward education through the Hawai‘i County Fentanyl Task Force and to grow a substance abuse and mental health counseling master’s program at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo.
“I have seen first hand how addiction has really taken control of our community, but I’ve also been on the flipside and seen how treatment really works for people,” Preston-Pita said.
Kevin Kunz, a member the county’s Fentanyl Task Force, said this funding changes the course the organization can take on prevention, treatment, early intervention and supporting drug recovery.
Many of those dying from drug overdoses are teens who took a drug not knowing it was laced with fentanyl.
“We have the opportunity to prevent the loss of a generation,” Kunz said, adding prevention and treatment works.
Roth said $489,000 is not a lot of money, but county and community partners came together to determine the best use of the limited funds. They plan to reach out to partners — or already have — to help supplement additional money to make things happen.
Tim Hansin, executive assistant for the mayor, said he has talked to the State Department of Health about additional funds to be used for the detox center and for the fentanyl task force to provide public education.
“We can build these programs, but who’s going to be running them and assisting the treatment programs and detox?” Hansin questioned.
With that in mind, he also asked the state to provide additional funding toward growing the UH Hilo’s master’s program in mental health counseling program.
The goal would be to expand the work force in mental health services on Hawai‘i Island. Additional funding would enable the program to increase from 20 students to 30.