Hawaii lawmakers take steps to prevent fentanyl deaths

  • BERENGUE (Facebook photo)

The deaths of two Hawaii men following a suspected fentanyl overdose involving five people in a Waikiki hotel room over the weekend has spurred Hawaii lawmakers, including Gov. Josh Green, to move forward on measures designed to prevent deaths from the potent synthetic opioid.

Green said Tuesday in an email that he is going to sign Senate Bill 671, which legalizes possession of fentanyl test strips by exempting them from the definition of drug paraphernalia in the uniform Controlled Substances Act and which also defines a fentanyl test strip.


Green said, “It is very important to legalize fentanyl test strips. Fentanyl is 80 times more powerful than morphine, and it suppresses the respiratory system to the point that it is sometimes not possible to resuscitate patients with Narcan. Fentanyl is being laced into other drugs, and people are dying, as we saw with the tragic two deaths in Waikiki.”

He added, “We understand that some people worry that by legalizing these test strips we are sending the wrong message. I feel that we as a state need to be compassionate and focus on harm reduction. People who are addicted to drugs can use these test strips to determine whether they are about to ingest a potentially lethal dose of fentanyl — and be in a position to save their own lives.”

Senate Bill 671 was passed by the state Legislature this session and was sent to Green on April 18.

The Honolulu City Council will hear Bill 28, “Relating to Naloxone,” for second reading today at 10 a.m. at Honolulu Hale. The bill, introduced by Council member Tyler Dos Santos-­Tam, requires bars, nightclubs and other high-risk venues to maintain doses of naloxone, the opioid reversal medication.

Dos Santos-Tam said in a statement, “What happened in Waikiki is a tragedy. It serves as another reminder that we need to use every tool at our disposal to prevent overdoses. Narcan is one of those tools. Bill 28 is about keeping the public safe — it’s about taking action on this horrible epidemic.”

The Honolulu Medical Examiner’s Office has identified the two men who died following the suspected fentanyl incident. A medical examiner official said one of the men was Joseph Iseke, 44, of Kailua, Oahu.

According to Honolulu Police Department reports, Iseke was pronounced dead at the scene after Honolulu Emergency Medical Services paramedics responded to a call at the Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach Resort at about 6:30 a.m. Sunday regarding a possible overdose case with multiple victims.

They found five victims: Iseke; two men ages 40 and 53, who were treated and taken in critical condition to a hospital; and two women, ages 53 and 47, who were transported in serious condition.

The other fatality was identified as Steven Berengue, 53, of Kailua-Kona, who died at a hospital following Sunday’s incident.

The cause of death for both men is pending and could take anywhere up to six months to determine, the medical examiner official said.

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