The opioid epidemic in the United States has claimed many lives but findings of a new study reveal that deaths from drug overdoses have also contributed to a record number of organ donations.

Organ Donor Shortage

Patients who need organ donations wait an average of five to seven years to get a transplant. Data from the United Network for Organ Sharing, which manages the organ transplant network in the United States, show that the number of people on the organ transplant list as of April 17 is 114,763 but there are only 4,109 donors from January to March this year.

In a study, which was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine on April 16, Christine Durand, from John Hopkins University, and colleagues showed how the opioid epidemic helps alleviate the organ donor shortage.

Organ Donations From Drug Overdose Deaths

Researchers used data from the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients, which include information on organ donors, wait-list candidates, and transplant patients from January 2000 to September 2017.

The researchers found that the number of organ donors who died from drug overdose rose from just 1.1 percent of all donors in 2000 to 13.4 percent over the 17-year-period. They also identified 7,313 overdose-death donors who had at least one organ recovered during this period. From these donors, there were 19,897 transplants.

The findings suggest that the increase in organ donations from drug overdose deaths could be alleviating the organ shortage in the country.

"For people waiting on an organ transplant right now, I would like to think that our studies bring them hope that they could receive a transplant and have more donors that could help them," Durand said.

Outcome Of Organ Transplants From Overdose-Death Donors

Five years after the transplants had been performed, researchers found that transplants from overdose-death donors were as successful as those that used organs from trauma victims and slightly better than those that used organs from patients who died due to medical issues.

UNOS chief medical officer David Klassen, who is not part of the study, said that people who died of overdoses tend to be good candidates for organ donation because they are likely younger and do not usually suffer from health conditions associated with aging.

Although drugs may cause the heart and breathing to stop, these do not necessarily harm the organs, which still make them viable for transplant.

"In the United States, transplantation with ODD organs has increased dramatically, with noninferior outcomes in transplant recipients." the researchers wrote in their study.

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