The increase in drug overdose deaths in the United States is contributing to the steady supply of organs for transplant that otherwise keep transplant patients waiting for one. According to a recent research, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in April 2018, drug-related deaths, for whatever reason—be it not seeking help from a drug abuse rehab, accidental overdoses or car accidents—have led to a 24-fold increased availability of organs for patients needing transplants.
From a meagre 149 organs from drug overdose victims transplanted on patients needing replacement for heart, kidney, lungs or liver in 2000, the donations went up to 3,533 such organs in 2016. The study found that victims who were declared brain dead due to trauma, drownings, falls, car crashes, electrocution, violent injuries, etc. became prospective organ donors. Older patients, who tend to lose brain function due to heart attack, stroke or brain hemorrhage were also organ donors. However, using organs of old people increased the risk of other problems in recipients.
The researchers from the Johns Hopkins University had initiated the study to probe how opioid abuse had changed the landscape for transplant patients, and whether there was fair play in terms of utilization of these “parting gifts” from drug overdose victims.
Recipients of organs from drug-related deaths fared better in some cases
The health outcomes in the case of transplants where the organ is harvested from an overdose victim were a “mixed bag”. However, in certain cases, these outcomes were better.
- Transplant patients receiving hearts or lungs from deceased drug users had between 1 and 5 percent more chances of being alive after five years, compared to those who received organs from victims of fatal trauma or natural causes.
- Patients receiving kidney or liver from an overdosed donor had 2-3 percent more chances of survival after five years than those who got the organs from people who died from a medical condition. However, compared to recipients transplanted with a liver or kidney from a trauma victim, recipients who got a kidney or liver from a drug user fared 3 percent worse.
Organs from overdose victims are not inferior
The organs from drug overdose deaths can help save the 20 lives that are currently lost every day waiting for an organ to be harvested. However, this is not happening. During the study, the researchers identified that though 501 livers, 23 lungs, 117 hearts and 1,665 kidneys were recovered from overdose patients, they were discarded. The two main reasons for this could be the high chances of receiving an infected organ and the stigma associated with overdose victims.
Addiction is a malady with the potential to kill people. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), opioid overdose deaths have increased five-fold since 1999. However, it is also a treatable condition if someone approaches a drug abuse rehabilitation center, or attends a drug abuse therapy. If you have a loved one struggling with an addiction to drugs, alcohol or any other substance, seek immediate help from the best rehab near you.
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