Medical Examiner’s Office identifies 2 who died in suspected mass overdose

The Honolulu Medical Examiner’s Office on Tuesday identified the two people who died following a suspected mass overdose event in Waikiki on Sunday.
Published: Jun. 4, 2023 at 7:28 AM HST|Updated: Jun. 6, 2023 at 5:32 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Honolulu Medical Examiner’s Office on Tuesday identified the two people who died following a suspected mass overdose event in Waikiki over the weekend that also left three others hospitalized.

They have been identified as 44-year-old Joseph Iseke, of Kailua, Oahu, and 53-year-old Steven Berengue, of Kailua-Kona, Hawaii Island.

HPD has said that fentanyl was detected at the scene.

Honolulu EMS Director Dr. Jim Ireland said the mass overdose event comes amid a worrisome spike in fentanyl cases across the island. “Unfortunately, we’re seeing more overdoses from fentanyl in general,” Ireland said.

“These are happening at homes, at businesses, at hotels. Sadly, they’re happening all over the island.”

Ireland added that when he speaks to overdose survivors, many didn’t realize they were taking fentanyl.

“Know that what you’re buying may not be what you think it is,” he said.

In the Waikiki incident, first responders, including Hazmat crews, were dispatched to the Outrigger Reef Hotel just before 7 a.m. Sunday. Paramedics found a total of five patients: Three men and two women.

HPD said Iseke was pronounced dead at the scene on Sunday morning. Berengue was pronounced dead at the hospital on Sunday afternoon. Meanwhile, three others remain hospitalized in serious to critical condition.

All of the patients transported were in their 40s and 50s.

Police say emergency responders were dispatched to Waikiki when a woman called 911 after waking up in her hotel room and finding four of her friends unresponsive.

HPD officials had no comment today. But former law enforcement officials said the HPD should be more forthcoming about the case.

They said the public needs to be warned if there’s a bad batch of drugs on the street that’s tainted with fentanyl.

“The police need to come out and address this issue out front. It’s a matter of informing the public,” said former HPD Deputy Chief John McCarthy.

“What we’re hearing is ‘oh, they found fentanyl.’ What did they find? Was it stolen? Prescription medical grade fentanyl? Was it straight up fentanyl? Was it some kind of marijuana or pure laced fentanyl? What should we be looking for?”

Heather Lusk, with the Hawaii Health and Harm Reduction Center, said the episode underscores the real dangers of fentanyl-laced street drugs.

“We don’t know the full story but most likely they didn’t know what was in what they were taking.” she said.

Lusk is hopeful about the expanding availability of opioid overdose-reversal drug Narcan.

This summer, Narcan will be available over the counter.

But she adds the public needs to do their part by raising awareness and working to get the life-saving medication in their homes.

“It’s becoming so prevalent that unless we get to the source of the issue, we will continue to see these needless deaths,” said Lusk.

According to state health officials, fatal fentanyl overdoses have increased 400% in the last five years. In 2022, fentanyl killed 60 people in Hawaii — the highest number ever recorded.

“We look at methamphetamine as continuing to be our chronic drug threat here in Hawaii, and fentanyl to be, you know, the emergence of the emerging drug threat in Hawaii,” said Jared Redulla, administrator for the State Narcotics Enforcement Division.

“What happened over the weekend is a tragedy. And it’s ... something that we absolutely have to be concerned about.”

The suspected overdoses comes as the Honolulu City Council is considering Bill 28 which will will require bars, night clubs and other places that sell alcohol to have Narcan on site to treat people for possible fentanyl intoxication.

“This incident goes to show how prevalent fentanyl is in our community,” said Honolulu City Councilmember Tyler Dos Santos-Tam, who introduced the measure.

“People may be taking something or drinking something that they don’t even know is laced with fentanyl. And that’s why it’s so important to have Narcan, which helps to reverse an opioid overdose.”

If the bill becomes law, Dos Santos-Tam said Honolulu will become the first jurisdiction in the country to mandate Narcan at these establishments.