Opioid Overdose Deaths Boost Number Of Transplantable Organs


The ongoing opioid epidemic in the United States has caused an increase in organ donations from individuals who died from a drug overdose. Such cases caused much of the increase in organ donations in the United States in the last five years.

Organ Donation And Transplantation

All across the United States, over 100,000 people are waiting for organ donations that can save or improve their lives. Such donations sometimes come from living donors, but most organ and tissue donations come from people that have just died. Unfortunately, the process can be tedious for many who have to wait a long time for viable organ donations.

Researchers of a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the ongoing opioid epidemic in the United States has increased the number of transplantable organs as a result of the increase in drug-overdose deaths since 2000.

Organ Donation Increase From Opioid Overdose Deaths

Between the years of 2000 and 2016, researchers found an over 10-fold increase in organ donations from individuals who died from a drug overdose. In fact, the increase in the number of such drug overdose-related organ donations was found to be the primary driver of the overall increase in organ transplantation in the United States in the last five years.

Compared to the donations in Eurotransplant, a collective of all transplantation centers in eight European countries, there was no observed significant increase in the number of organ donations resulting from drug overdose deaths, and there was also no observed change in the overall number of organ donors.

Are These Organs Safe To Use?

Researchers of the study also reviewed the safety of using donated organs from individuals who died from a drug overdose. To do this, researchers compared the survival of donees one year after the transplant of organs from donors who died from a drug overdose as well as other causes of death such as blunt head injury, gunshot wound, drowning, and seizure.

Researchers found no significant difference in the survival rates of the donees who got organs from donors who died of drug overdose and donors who died from other causes.

"In the unfortunate circumstances where opioid deaths happen, organ donation can extend life of many patients in need of transplant. Yet, these organs are often not considered suitable for organ donation," said Josef Stehlik, M.D., M.P.H. of the University of Utah Health, senior author of the study. "I feel hopeful that doctors across the country will read this and feel confident that organs that pass the required tests are safe for transplant."

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