DOH receives $8M federal grant to continue fight against opioid misuse

HONOLULU — The state Department of Health recently received an $8 million federal grant over a two-year period to continue to combat opioid misuse in the state.

It is part of more than $1 billion in opioid-specific grants being awarded by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to help states combat the crisis in the nation.

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“No state is immune from this public health issue,” Dr. Bruce Anderson, director of the state Department of Health, said in a prepared statement issued Sept. 25. “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.”

According to a survey conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), which is a part of Health and Human Services, Americans initiating heroin use dropped by around half from 2016 to 2017. The number of Americans misusing opioids also dropped for the second year in a row, and the number receiving specialty treatment for heroin use increased.

From January 2017 through this August, the amount of opioids prescribed in America dropped by 21 percent. During the same period, the number of prescriptions filled for naloxone, used to counter opioid addiction, has increased 264 percent, while the number of prescriptions for buprenorphine, one form of medication-assisted treatment, has risen 16 percent.

Hawaii’s opioid death rates have historically been lower than the national rate. In 2016, there were 77 opioid-related overdose deaths in Hawaii — a rate of 5.2 deaths per 100,000 persons.

This is less than half the national rate of 13.3 deaths per 100,000 persons.

Edward Mersereau, chief of DOH’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Division, said residents should not look at Hawaii’s figures and let their guard down. In Hawaii, drug overdose deaths account for nearly a quarter of all fatal injuries, which include deaths from prescription opioids.

“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,” Mersereau said. “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.”

The award doubles the level of funding Hawaii has received from HHS to combat the opioid crisis and support drug abuse prevention.

Previously, the health department received a $4 million Opioid State Targeted Response (STR) grant, which was part of a program created by the 21st Century Cures Act. The grant program is administered by SAMHSA within HHS.

That grant was used to launch the Hawaii Opioid Initiative action plan, a “living document” that offers a comprehensive approach to aggressively counteract the misuse of opioids and other prevalent drugs, such as methamphetamine.

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“The (new) grant funds will continue to support the collective efforts of the Hawaii Opioid Initiative and fulfill the objectives of the action plan over the coming year,” said Mersereau.

Gov. David Ige will re-convene a meeting of Hawaii Opioid Initiative participants to review the accomplishments of the plan’s implementation over the last year and to discuss strategies for the coming year. The meeting will be held at the state Capitol this week.

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