The opioid epidemic is killing tens of thousands of people in the United States each year. It is also giving organ transplant recipients a new chance at life, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
With an increasing death rate from opioid overdoses, Dr. Muthiah Vaduganathan with Brigham and Woman’s Hospital, and colleagues, set out to explore the trends and statewide variation in the number of donor organs recovered from people who died from drug overdose.
Using data from the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network from 1999 to 2017, researchers examined state-specific patterns in the use of donor organs in adult heart transplant patients. They found that among 37,232 adult heart donors, the percentage of those who died from drug overdose increased from 1.5 percent in 1999 to 17.6 percent in 2017.
While most states saw increases in organs donated from those who died from drug overdose, the greatest increases were seen in the Northeast, Midwest and Southwest.
“Targeted campaigns that promote organ donation in populations affected by drug intoxication and changing perceptions related to the acceptability of such organs may have contributed to observed increases in the rates of organ donation and recovery,” Dr. Vaduganathan and Dr. Sara R. Machado with the London School of Economics and Political Science wrote in a joint letter to the editor.
An estimated 6.24 adult donor organs are recovered per 1,000 lives lost due to drug overdose, the researchers concluded. “Because one donor may provide a variety of organs to multiple recipients, the total number of organs recovered is substantially higher.”
“It is important that effective efforts to target the drug-overdose epidemic go forward,” they wrote, “and the transplant community certainly supports those efforts.”