Fentanyl task force following Big Island blueprint coming to Kaua‘i

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The County of Kaua‘i is planning on launching a fentanyl task force in the coming weeks, inspired by a model implemented on the Big Island nearly three years ago.

County representatives were part of a two-day training program administered by the Hawai‘i Island Task Force last month, which included representatives from the Kaua‘i Police Department, the Kaua‘i Safety Bureau, the county prosecutor’s office, the county housing agency, health care providers and various nonprofits.

“I think what works really well for the Big Island is they involve family members of survivors from fentanyl abuse,” said Michael Miranda, the program coordinator for Life’s Choices, an anti-drug program within the County of Kaua‘i’s Office of the Prosecuting Attorney. “People with the lived experiences are the most valuable resources for education to prevent it from becoming an epidemic.”

According to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were a total of 11 fatal overdoses on Kaua‘i for the 12 months ending June 2023. The data indicates Kaua‘i County has experienced the lowest amount of deaths compared to O‘ahu, Hawai‘i Island, and Maui, which have overdose numbers of 205, 52, and 52, respectively, for the same period.

However, Miranda believes the data is likely “double to triple” the numbers that have been reported due to delays in toxicology results and inaccuracies in cause-of-death reports.

“Speaking to first responders, it’s a lot worse than the statistics show,” Miranda said. “First responders and medical providers believe they’ve seen much more than 11 (deaths).”


According to Miranda, who is also the point of contact for the County of Kaua‘i Opioid Settlement Committee, the task force is expected to receive $150,000 in funding annually through the National Opioids Settlement, which is providing a total of $81.4 million to the State of Hawai‘i from 2023 to 2041.

“We’re guessing it’s not enough to pay for any staffing,” he said. “We are trying to decide how to spend the county’s portion of the settlement. We want to focus mostly on prevention education. So people know that there’s alternatives to opioids.”

Prevention education will include lectures at elementary, middle and high schools. According to Miranda, children as young as 7 and 8 years old have been cited for vaping in school.

Miranda says fentanyl is not yet an epidemic on Kaua‘i, but believes there is a high risk. “I think one false move in the wrong could be the dam to burst,” he added.

Dr. Kevin Kunz, the co-lead of the Hawai‘i Island Task Force, noted that his island’s task force is community-led and not a county organization.


Kunz, who is a semi-retired addiction medicine specialist, emphasized that Hawai‘i Island is running an independent, community-led task force.

“If you leave it to government, health care, police, EMS, the prison system, the churches, it’s not enough. You’ve got to activate the community for it. That’s the message. That’s the message we had,” Kunz said of what he told Kaua‘i officials during the two-day training program.

“It’s going to take everybody working together.”

According to Kunz, the Hawai‘i Island Fentanyl Task Force has given over 400 presentations to schools and community groups, provided over 12,000 free Narcan kits, issued several public service announcements, and most recently, implemented Narcan vending machines.

“On our island, almost everybody knows there’s a problem. But we can’t stop, we have to keep saying it. Because this is far from over,” Kunz said.


He noted that one person dies from an overdose every 28 hours, statewide, and that those with chronic addiction and young people experimenting with drugs are the most at risk of an overdose.

“If there was a new virus and somebody was dying every 28 hours, that would be in your newspaper’s front page, right?”

“We’ve got to activate the community at a level that they become aware and start talking about it,” Munz said.

The fentanyl task force on Kaua‘i, which is still in its formative stages, is planning another meeting within the next week to discuss a vision and mission statement, according to Miranda. He is hoping to see the program fully implemented within the next couple of months.

Emma Grunwald
Emma Grunwald is a reporter for Kauaʻi Now. You can reach her at
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