Drug Overdose Victims as Organ Donors Boost Recipient Numbers

As the US remains held in the grip of the opioid crisis that continues to claim lives at an alarming rate, there are indications that the rising death toll is giving a second chance to some patients.

Even though the number of organ transplants is increasing annually, there are not nearly enough organs available for everyone on a waiting list. In 2016, 33,610 transplant procedures were performed (8.5% more than the previous year and a 19.8% rate than 2012). The increase in growth is mainly due to an increase in the number of deceased donors (United Network for Organ Sharing).

The vast majority (over 80%) of transplants involved organs from deceased donors. In many cases, more than one organ could be donated. The rest of the transplants involved living donors (kidney, liver and in rare instances pancreas, lung or intestine).

Overdose Victims High-risk Organ Donors

New research conducted by Johns Hopkins University, and published in the medical journal Annals of Internal Medicine, has revealed that organ donations from overdose victims has increased 24-fold since the year 2000. In 2016, 3,533 transplants using organs from overdose victims were performed, as opposed to only 149 transplants in this category in 2000.

When overdose deaths occur, in most instances the affected person is alone and not in hospital. These circumstances make harvesting organs for transplant more challenging. Overdose deaths now account for approximately 13% of deceased organ donors in the US, an increase of a full percentage point from 2000, say the researchers.

The lead researcher, Dr. Christine Durand, indicated in the medical journal that harvesting organs from overdose victims is not an ideal situation. She stated that it wasn’t a “sustainable solution to the organ shortage.”

Currently, there are close to 115,000 people on the transplant waiting list nationwide. The Johns Hopkins team of researchers came to the conclusion that organs from overdose victims should be used for transplants, since many patients on the waiting list would die waiting for another donor.