The United States’ ongoing opioid epidemic continues to claim a growing number of lives, but there is a “silver lining” in the tragic deaths: hope for complete strangers waiting to receive organs.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University found that organ donations from overdose victims have increased 24 times since 2000, CBS News reports. In 2016, there were 3,533 transplants from overdose victims who were also organ donors, up from a mere 149 in 2000, the study said.
Deaths from overdoses are increasing, yet most happen outside hospitals, making organ donation from these patients difficult. But overdose deaths now account for 13% of the country’s organ donors, from 1% in 2000.
Dr. Christine Durand, lead researcher, said, “This is not an ideal or sustainable solution to the organ shortage.” However, since there are 115,000 people now on the organ transplant waiting list, the researchers concluded that organs from overdose deaths “should be optimized” because otherwise, many transplant candidates would die while waiting.
Alex Glazier, president of New England Donor Services, calls it an unexpected “silver lining,” saying,
It’s a lifesaving legacy out of a pretty horrific public health scenario.
The Johns Hopkins team used a registry to compare the results of 338,000 patients who received transplant organs between 2000 and 2016 from donors who died of either trauma, disease, or overdose.
On the whole, survival rates with organs from overdose victims were the same with those taken from trauma or disease patients. Compared to donors who died of disease, transplanted organs from overdose donors were even a little bit better as these donors tend to be younger, thus less likely to have high blood pressure, diabetes, and other health problems that might affect effective organ function.
Glazier said, “That’s really been a total game changer in terms of opening up the potential for donation in these cases.”
The study was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.