WAILUKU, Hawaii — An upward trend in opioid overdoses has Hawaii health care providers working with Native Hawaiian healers in an effort to find alternative ways to treat pain and help wean addicts off of opioids.

Opioid pain relievers have contributed to about 40 percent of drug overdose deaths statewide throughout the past decade, The Maui News reported (http://bit.ly/2vSoQpU ) on Sunday. This includes substances such as OxyContin, fentanyl and other synthetics, but excludes heroin.

Hamakua-Kohala Health on the Big Island has submitted a proposal to insurance company Hawaii Medical Service Association for Native Hawaiian healing to be included in health coverage. If it is accepted, other clinics statewide would be able to make the same request. Community health centers hope to gain insurance coverage for Native Hawaiian healing treatments in the next couple of weeks.

“A lot of Hawaiians get no primary care, and we know a big part of the population has massive substance abuse problems,” said Irene Carpenter, chief executive officer of Hamakua-Kohala Health. “Opioid substance abuse came up as a massive problem (on the Big Island), and I’m sure it’s exactly the same on Maui. There’s just not enough resources.”

Gov. David Ige has also taken notice of the problem. He introduced a $10 million initiative earlier this month to fight opioid addiction. The initiative includes distributing 20,000 opioid overdose rescue kits. The state Legislature has enacted a bill to better control opioid prescriptions in response to the growing epidemic.

Statewide opioid overdose deaths in 2016 more than doubled the amount of deaths in 2000, according to the Hawaii Department of Health. In 2016, 59 people died of an opioid overdose compared to 25 in 2000.

“I think we’re at least as bad as (the rest of) the U.S.,” Maui District Health Officer Dr. Lorrin Pang said. “For every one legitimate use of (opioid painkillers), there’s three or four illegitimate uses.”

Pang said the opioid crisis began about 15 years ago as doctors began prescribing the painkillers. The number of prescriptions is now four or five times higher, he said.

“I’m not saying these people didn’t have pain to start with, but I don’t think we have more pain than what we had 15 years ago,” he said.

The highest annual rate of opioid overdose deaths per 100,000 residents in Hawaii is 17.5, according to Maui County statistics.


Information from: The Maui News, http://www.mauinews.com