Overdose Victims Increasing Organ Donations

Newly gathered statistics show a rapid increase in the number of organs being donated from victims who died of opioid overdoses.

According to data from the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, 848 organ donors died of drug intoxication in 2015, a significant jump in this category of donors. The organs from an opioid-overdose victim are still viable because death is caused by respiratory failure, which does not damage the organs. Additionally, victims who die by opioid overdose are often young and otherwise healthy.

In an article published last May, the Washington Post cited that the share of organ donors across the nation who died of drug overdoses jumped by 50 percent from 2010 to 2015. In New England alone, the number of donations rose from 8 to 54—an increase of 575 percent—over the same time period. Currently, government sources estimate that 1 out of every 11 organ donors is a drug-overdose victim.

The number of organs donated from drug overdose victims probably varies regionally, but such data are not yet available.

The largest category of organ donors remains those who die of car accidents, strokes, or other causes. And some transplant surgeons and recipients are wary of using organs from overdose victims because of concerns that the organs carry infectious diseases. However, many believe that thorough testing and treatment can minimize the risks.

“The risk of contracting an infectious disease is very small compared with other risks in transplantation,” said Dorry L. Segev, a researcher at Johns Hopkins. “There is ample evidence that many patients are better off receiving organs from high-risk donors than waiting for a different organ.”

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