Opioid overdoses killed more than 47,000 Americans in 2014, with heroin- and prescription painkiller-related deaths increasing by nearly 137 percent over the last 15 years. However, in a silver lining to the United States’ addiction epidemic, organ banks across the country are now reporting a staggering jump in lifesaving donations, The Washington Post reports.
Today, one out of every 11 organ donors in the United States is someone who has died of a drug overdose, according to recent government data. The number of drug users contributing to organ banks has skyrocketed over the last five years, increasing by more than 50 percent since 2010.
Transplant experts say the influx of new organs can be explained by two main factors: the massive increase in overdose deaths in America since 2000, and a recent effort in the transplant community to increase donation and seek out every last eligible organ, regardless of the stigma that often surrounds drug users in the health care community.
Such donors are labeled “high-risk” because of their behavioral history, and transplant recipients in this country must consent before receiving an organ from someone who has overdosed. That being said, all organs in the U.S. are screened for HIV, hepatitis B virus (HBV) and hepatitis C virus (HCV) prior to surgery, and organs from drug users have generally been deemed safe and acceptable by medical standards for decades.
What’s more, doctors say organs from people who have died of overdoses may actually be of better quality, because many drug users affected by today’s opioid epidemic are young and tend to be otherwise healthy. In the United States, the vast majority of donated organs come from people who have died from stroke, blunt injury and cardiovascular problems and often have other health issues.
Currently, more than 121,000 Americans are on a waiting list to receive an organ. According to the national Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, more than 800 lifesaving organs came from people who died of drug overdoses in 2014 alone.