HONOLULU — Drug overdoses have overtaken car crashes as the No. 1 cause of injury deaths in Hawaii, according to statistics from the state Department of Health.
From 2009 to 2013, drug poisonings killed 773 people, according to data released last week by Dan Galanis, epidemiologist for the department’s Injury Prevention and Control Program.
That compares with 685 people who died in falls and 618 killed in traffic crashes over the same five-year period. Vehicle crashes topped the list for the four previous five-year cycles.
Many people are unaware of serious overdose problems, health officials said.
“There’s a general lack of public awareness,” said Dr. Lorne Direnfeld, a Maui neurologist, who has advocated for an education effort. “If somebody said to you there’s something that’s preventable and yet it’s killing more people than car accidents, does that sound like there’s enough awareness?”
Overdoses from narcotics have contributed to the trend as doctors prescribe powerful drugs to deal with patients’ long-term, chronic pain, Galanis said.
Keith Kamita of the Department of Public Safety’s Narcotics Enforcement Division said students he speaks to often have no awareness of the risks.
“When you talk to a lot of these kids, they don’t think it’s dangerous because it’s medication — medication doesn’t kill you,” Kamita said.
In some overdose cases, students obtained drugs from home medicine cabinets.
The department is addressing the overdose problem with an online prescription-drug monitoring program that allows physicians and pharmacists to check the medication histories of patients to determine whether they have received opiates from other providers.
Doctors have started to prescribe fewer opiates, Kamita said. Physicians whose patterns have not changed now stand out, Kamita said.
“You’re starting to see more doctors become aware of high prescribing,” he added. “The pendulum is swinging a little bit.”