Combating Hawaii's drug overdose problem

Published On: Dec 01 2013 01:16:00 PM HST

Hawaii's drug overdose problem has become more deadly than drownings, car crashes or pedestrian fatalities. As the number gets higher for those getting high, there are renewed efforts to prevent more deaths by passing a "Good Samaritan" bill.

Click here to watch more in Paul Drewes' report.

"We certainly have a problem with drug overdoses, both prescription and illegal drugs," said Dr. Linda Rosen with the Department of Health.

Hawaii has seen a 70 percent increase in overdoses in the past decade, while the number of fatalities reached a new high in 2011 at 183.

"I walked by a guy with a needle hanging out of his arm, and he was twitching and unconscious. Everybody around him was just walking by him," said Honolulu resident Robin Olsen.

When it comes to drug overdoses, simply calling for help can mean the difference between life or death.

"With narcotics you can have an overdose situation that can be quickly reversed. A lethal situation can be quickly reversed with medical attention," said Dr. Rosen.

But many aren't making that life-saving call.

"People won't call 911 if there is drug paraphernalia about and there is always paraphernalia around," said "Bud," who lives on the streets of Chinatown.

"Our data shows that about 70 percent of the people who witnessed an overdose did not call 911 for fear of arrest or prosecution," said Heather Lusk with the Community Health Outreach Work to prevent HIV/AIDS program (CHOW Project).

Seventeen other states have amnesty bills that would offer those who call 911 during a medical emergency protection from prosecution, but Hawaii doesn't. Efforts to pass a measure failed this legislative session, but supporters will give it another shot in January.

"The bill wouldn't give amnesty to drug traffickers or people you are concerned about. It would allow folks who are aroundbut are afraid to call 911, because of drug paraphernalia or other drugs, to be able to save a life - by calling 911," said Lusk.

There is concern the bill would give the message that drug use is sometimes allowed, but supporters of the medical amnesty measure say it goes beyond the right and wrong of using drugs.

"A life is more important than a criminal charge," said Lusk.

Some wonder if drug users would even know about the legal change, but the word on the street is the information would spread quickly and would also make a big difference to drug users.

"I think it will save lives because the extra minutes you would take to get rid of the paraphernalia could jeopardize a person's life," said Chinatown resident Linda Richwin.

"The bill will definitely save lives cause people do not call 911. I've come across dead bodies that have been lying in the bus stop for hours because no one wanted to get  involved," said "Bud."


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