KAILUA-KONA — When Brent Oto, owner of Oahu-based Substance Abuse Education and Prevention LLC, speaks with people in this community about the problems of substance misuse and addiction, he hears one common response: They want and need to know more.
“Because they don’t really know what to do when they have a substance abuser in their house or when they have somebody that’s addicted to methamphetamine or even to marijuana,” he said, “they don’t know what to do or where to turn to.”
Oto wants to provide that answer.
Next month, Oto — along with other professionals in the field — will bring education to Hilo and Kona for two trainings aimed at kickstarting the conversation on the issue of substance misuse in the community.
“We want to reduce, we want to prevent. But first of all we want to keep people aware and educate people,” Oto said. “That’s the first line of prevention that we can do for the community.”
The Hilo training will take place Oct. 25 at the Hawaii County Office of Aging. Registration is available at https://bit.ly/2xacfBk.
The Kona training is scheduled for the following day, Oct. 26, at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority, Room 119. Registration for the Kona event is available at https://bit.ly/2Qxwnpp.
Trainings for both days will run from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. The $55 registration includes lunch and 6.5 continuing education units.
One common issue regarding substance use is the lack of nearby treatment options. While Oahu has resources like treatment facilities and centers, finding that kind of accessibility and even awareness, Oto said, can be lacking here.
“The majority of the folks that live on (Hawaii) Island, if they have substance abuse or addiction problems, it’s hard for them to get out or even know about some of the resources that we have in the state of Hawaii,” he said.
And it’s not just an issue relevant to health care providers and professionals who work in addiction medicine. From educators to law enforcement, from clinicians to first responders, everyone has to pitch in together.
The upcoming trainings — which include presentations on everything from safe and therapeutic opioid prescribing to drugs and suicides — offer learning opportunities for everyone with a stake in the issue.
Jimmy Kayihura, admission director at Hawaii Island Recovery, pointed to the importance of having professionals of all stripes as part of the conversation.
“There is an alarming need,” said Kayihura, “and everybody working together can fit and serve that unmet need.”
He also included educators on the list of people encouraged to attend.
“Teachers have a dial on the community and what’s going on,” he said. “Not only with these things introduced into the school systems, but often times the children or students that are struggling have family that is struggling. So just understanding what resources are available and what actually is going on.”
Among the presenters scheduled for the trainings is Sean Riley, founder of Safe Call Now, which offers a crisis referral line, staffed by other first responders, that gives public safety professionals and their families a confidential place to reach out.
Prior to starting Safe Call Now in 2009, Riley had been a police officer for nearly 20 years.
“I was addicted to alcohol and narcotic pain medication,” he said. “But I had a great career; I was doing very, very well in my career and I was able to hide it until it got out of hand where I couldn’t control it anymore.”
After being indicted by the federal government for doctor shopping, he knew it was time to “step up and deal with it.”
But in the process of trying to get help, he said, he found there wasn’t a lot for first responders.
Riley went back to school for chemical dependency counseling and became a supervisor in a treatment center.
“And I saw the police and fire and all the people that I deal with — we all took the same path,” he said. “And I said, ‘Well this is crazy; there’s got to be a better way to do this because there’s got to be a better way to step in.’”
In addition to the 24-hour crisis referral line, Riley said Safe Call Now also offers trainings across the country as well as programs for families of first responders.
He spoke to the importance of reaching as many people as possible.
“We want to get to anybody that gets near these first responders,” he said, saying that could be a judge, clergy, counselor, family member or even first responders themselves. “Because a lot of first responders will have no problems; they’ll just be fine in life. But how do they help the ones that do? They don’t know how to do that because no one’s trained them in that.”
Other presentations featured will focus on drugs and suicides, safe and therapeutic opioid prescribing as well as pharmaceutical opioid overdose and fentanyl addiction.
The trainings also bring in other perspectives, including a presentation about the role of Hawaiian cultural practices in the field of addiction — an issue Kayihura said was crucial to bring to the table.
“If you’re serving any demographic, you need to understand the people that you’re serving,” he said.
While solutions to help residents living with addiction will take time and dedicated effort, one of the first things professionals can do is help themselves.
“I think that education is prevention,” Kayihura said. “As you better understand something, the more able that you are to effect change.”