Vitality

People Dying From Opioid Epidemic Help Address US Organ Shortage

The opioid epidemic and organ shortage are the two health crises the U.S. is facing at present. But doctors found how to take advantage of one of the problems to address the other. 

A new study, published in The Annals of Thoracic Surgery, shows that the opioid epidemic could help provide more organs to patients and expand the donor pool, leading to more lives being saved in the country.

"The opioid epidemic has increased the proportion of hearts transplanted from overdose death donors (ODD)," Nader Moazami, from NYU Langone Medical Center in New York, said in a statement. "One of the roles of the transplant community is to at least partially mitigate the tragedy of this exponentially growing problem by maximizing the utilization of organs from ODD."

Using data gathered between 2000 and 2017, Moazami and the research team analyzed how transplants among drug overdose deaths contributed to the community. Opioid overdoses covered 10.8 percent of the 15,904 isolated heart transplants during the study period. In 2017, the figure climbed to more than 20 percent in 11 states. 

"The dramatic increase in the rate of ODD utilization was striking, and it has increased concordantly with the rate of overdose deaths," Moazami said. "The significant impact of the opioid epidemic on transplantation is one of the major reasons that organ transplant numbers have increased over the last several years."

Most donors who died from opioid overdoses had "favorable heart donor quality" since they were commonly younger than age 40 and had lower rates of diabetes and hypertension. 

The opioid epidemic has also contributed to other organ transplants, including lungs. The researchers said lungs from the opioid patients did not pose any extra safety risk to transplant recipients.

Organ Transplantation: Avoiding Health Risk

The opioid epidemic has also been linked to the surge in hepatitis C virus cases due to injection use. But Moazami said there are already available medical tools that could help minimize the risks associated with transplanting an organ that is hepatitis C positive. 

The researchers noted that even if an organ recipient becomes infected, antiviral medication can be administered and cure the disease.  

Latest estimates show that more than 36,500 transplants were performed in 2018 in the country. However, to date the transplant waiting list continues to grow due to the organ shortage. In the past years, up to 18 patients were estimated to have died each day while waiting for a transplant.

surgery A new study shows that the opioid epidemic could help provide more organs to patients and expand the donor pool. Pixabay

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