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Hawaii health department gets $8M to combat opioid abuse

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    This photo shows an arrangement of Oxycodone pills. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced more than $1 billion in opioid-specific grants last week to help states across the U.S. combat the national crisis.

The Hawaii Department of Health announced today it has received $8 million from the federal government to combat opioid misuse in the state.

The two-year grant is part of more than $1 billion in opioid-specific grants the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced last week to help states across the U.S. combat the national crisis.

“No state is immune from this public health issue,” said state Health Department Bruce Anderson in a news release. “This grant provides another step in a positive direction for Hawaii to implement HHS’ comprehensive five-pronged strategy to address opioid misuse across our islands.”

Hawaii’s opioid death rates have historically been lower than the national rate, according to state health officials. In 2016, there were 77 opioid-related overdose deaths­­­ in Hawaii — a rate of 5.2 deaths per 100,000 persons, which is less than half the national rate of 13.3 deaths per 100,000 persons.

But Edward Mersereau, chief of the state Health Department’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Division, said Hawaii should not let its guard down.

“In Hawaii, drug overdose deaths account for nearly a quarter of all fatal injuries, which include deaths from prescription opioids,” he said in a statement. “In Hawaii, we all know a relative or friend who has been affected by drug misuse or addiction, including those who were taking a prescribed opioid as directed for pain relief. The social, economic and health disparities in our state, including access to behavioral health care, also make us particularly vulnerable to opioid and other drug misuse.”

Mersereau said about 60 percent of the funding would be earmarked for prevention programs, while the remainder would be used for treatment and recovery initiatives.

Last year and this year, the HHS also awarded Hawaii’s health department with $4 million total from its Opioid State Targeted Response grant. The grant was used to develop the Hawai‘i Opioid Initiative action plan, a comprehensive strategy released in December to aggressively counteract the misuse of opioids and other prevalent drugs, such as methamphetamine, in the state.

Among initiatives outlined in the plan are ways to improve prescribing practices among health care providers, system wide routine data collection and community-based programs and public education to prevent opioid misuse, such as the Hawaii Medication Drop Box Program launched in July.

More information on the six focus areas in the action plan is available at

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