OAHU, Hawaii (KITV) — Hawaii’s homeless are dying from methamphetamine, over any other cause.
On average, every three days a homeless resident dies on Oahu’s streets. Many of those sudden deaths are being blamed on meth, and so are the chronic conditions killing off this vulnerable population.
Tului Tiapula is homeless, but he likes to stay busy at Pawaa In-ha park, even though he, like many others who live on the streets, has health issues.
“I had a bleeding ulcer, then surgery, then it started to bleed again. When I stand up and walk, I’m ok, but I can’t sit for too long. I’m diabetic too,” said Tiapula.
He doesn’t worry much about his own health, but he’s seen other homeless residents who needed help to survive.
“I’ve seen the ambulance come and people overdose like that,” added Tiapula.
Paramedic Sunny Fitzgerald has been working for EMS for the past 5 years, and during that time she’s treated a number of homeless residents under the influence of methamphetamine.
“Meth is a huge problem we see here,” stated Fitzgerald.
In fact, it is the number one killer of homeless residents.
in 2019 – meth contributed to more deaths than all other illegal and legal drugs combined.
In 2020, 33% of Oahu’s homeless deaths were from drug overdoses, mostly methamphetamine toxicity. That is a huge difference from the 5% of deadly drug overdoses found in the rest of the population.
But can meth kills in more than one way, although it is not always recorded as the cause of death.
“Even with the natural death, many are from chronic complications from meth. But if they are not using meth at the time of death, we have to count it as a natural death,” stated Honolulu Medical Examiner Dr. Masahiko Kobayashi.
“It has a huge effect on the heart, it can lead to a heart attack, and lung problems because of crystal meth use,” added Fitzgerald.
She has seen the symptoms of chronic meth use in her patients.
“A lot of them are having breathing issues, or they are having chest pain, which is a sign of a heart attack or cardiac event,” stated Fitzgerald.
Patients overdosing on meth or those in cardiac distress may be able to be saved, if emergency responders can get to them quick enough and their bodies are strong enough to recover.
But over the past year, dozens didn’t survive.
That has kept Dr. Kobayashi busy with autopsies, where he sees first hand why homeless residents die on average three decades before a typical healthy person in the islands.
“Their average age of death is 52, the youngest age was 26, the oldest was 94,” added Kobayashi.
“It’s really said to hear that statistic: 52 years old. We run across the same patients over the years and it is sad to see them deteriorate,” added Fitzgerald.
In 2020, 120 homeless residents died on Oahu. A 30% increase from just five years ago.
According to some on the streets, things aren’t any better this year.
“It’s bad, but i cannot change anybody. Whatever they do is their business, we just try to go on with our business,” stated Tiapula.
The numbers of deaths tallied by the medical examiner don’t reflect those that happen in hospitals or other health care facilities, which means Hawaii’s homeless fatality rate is even higher.
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