College of Pharmacy boosts fight against opioids in Hawai‘i

University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo
Margot Schrire, (808) 376-7818
Senior Executive Director of Communications, UH Foundation
Posted: May 9, 2019

New grant boosts fight against opioids in Hawaii
New grant boosts fight against opioids in Hawaii

In an ongoing effort to help the local community confront opioid addiction, the Daniel K. Inouye College of Pharmacy (DKICP) will receive funding for the next year to hold educational events and offer simple alternatives to dispose of unused medications.

Unused medications in households and at patient care facilities expose residents to potential harm due to mistaken ingestion and increase the potential for theft and assault.

On an annual basis nationally, more than 71,000 children under the age of 19 are admitted to emergency rooms for unintentional overdoses of prescription and over the counter drugs. The problem can add to drug abuse in young adults aged 18–25 (5.9 percent) while 3 percent of teens (12–17 years) have the second highest rate. So called “pharm parties,” social gatherings where prescription drugs are consumed with alcohol have gained popularity in recent years among both age groups.

“Since 2012, DKICP has been involved in annual events that promote medication return,” Dean Carolyn Ma said. “At our 2018 fall health fair in Hilo, we collected 34 pounds of medication with the Hawai‘i State Narcotics Enforcement Division in their take-back program, and this initiative will give us more opportunities to offer that option to Hawai‘i residents.”

Dangers of unused prescription drugs

Ma emphasized that many people don’t realize that unused drugs in their medicine cabinet, especially those with addictive qualities, can lead to accidental overdoses or intentional misuse by anyone with access.

“How to dispose of unused medications in a responsible manner to our ʻāina in a safe way has become a common question. This funding will help us expand our ability to educate our community and highlight our expertise,” she added.

The Opioid and Medication Education and Disposal project has been designed to fit local communities on Hawai‘i Island, Kaua‘i, Maui and O‘ahu. Goals are to educate the public on why it’s important to safely dispose unused medications and show options on how to do that, said Ma, who is the principal investigator on the grant, which was awarded through a competitive grant process.

Dispose Rx destruction packets

In addition to attending health fairs throughout the four counties, DKICP student pharmacists will visit senior centers, including City and County senior day care centers, to distribute educational materials and teach the seniors to use their Dispose Rx destruction packets. NED agents will also hold take back events.  

In partnership with Hawai‘i Pacific Health (HPH), DKICP will provide Dispose Rx destruction packets with all opioid prescriptions dispensed from their four hospitals emergency departments, inpatient hospital discharge and physicians’ offices. Patients can then use the destruction packets at home or in the clinic for unused medications.  

HPH plans to conduct a survey so that DKICP can summarize a report on patients’ use of the destruction packets, types of medications and their feedback on ease of use.

HPH facilities include: Straub Hospital and clinic, Kapi‘olani Women and Children's Hospital, Wilcox Memorial Hospital and Pali Momi Medical Center.

“These medication destruction packets are especially important for our rural families or senior citizens who might be unable to attend take-back events or locate drug return boxes,” said Project Coordinator Wesley Sumida, DKICP associate professor based on O’ahu.

Data for future legislation

Sumida said the college hopes to provide information and data for future legislation on the effectiveness of various activities such as drug take-back events and medication destruction packet distribution that are specific to Hawai‘i’s unique geographical, rural, fiscal and personnel challenges.

Student organizations involved with the program include American Pharmacists Association, Academy of Student Pharmacists , Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy , Hawaiʻi Student Society of Health-System Pharmacists and National Community Pharmacist Association.

The program is funded through a $25,000 grant by the AmerisourceBergen Foundation, the not-for-profit charitable giving arm of AmerisourceBergen, and through the Foundation’s Opioid Resource Grant Program, which enables the foundation to support and advance ideas from innovative nonprofits, at the local and national level, to fight against opioid misuse. The AmerisourceBergen Foundation also provided an in-kind donation of 20,000 destruction packets which is part of the Foundation’s Safe Disposal Support Program and aims to promote the safe disposal of opioids by providing communities nationwide with resources to deactivate expired or unused prescription medications.


About the AmerisourceBergen Foundation       

The AmerisourceBergen Foundation is an independent not-for-profit charitable giving organization established by AmerisourceBergen Corporation to support health-related causes that enrich that global community. The Foundation aims to improve the health and well-being of its patient populations – both human and animal – by investing in its communities. Through strategic partnerships and community collaboration, the Foundation works to expand access to quality healthcare and provide resources to ensure prescription drug safety. For more information, visit

The University of Hawai‘i Foundation, a nonprofit organization, raises private funds to support the University of Hawai‘i System. The mission of the University of Hawai‘i Foundation is to unite donors’ passions with the University of Hawai‘i’s aspirations by raising philanthropic support and managing private investments to benefit UH, the people of Hawai‘i and our future generations.