A Pennsylvania man who lost his life to opioid addiction in October has since saved the lives of three men after his family fulfilled his dying wish to become an organ donor.
His story helps illustrate a growing trend across the United States of young overdose victims contributing to a major increase in the availability of organs for lifesaving transplants, CBS News reports.
Charles Grugan died of a heroin overdose at age 33 after struggling with addiction for more than a decade. Although his doctor determined that Grugan’s brain had been far too damaged to resuscitate him, he found that his kidneys, heart and liver were in good enough condition to be given to three patients in need. Fortunately for them, Grugan had identified as an organ donor on his driver’s license years before his death.
It’s no secret that drug overdose deaths have spiked massively over the last two decades. But health experts say a potential silver lining in the opioid crisis has been a major increase in the availability of organs for transplants. While drug users have traditionally been viewed as high-risk donors because they can carry blood-borne infections such as HIV and hepatitis C virus (HCV), advances in prevention, screening and treatment have shifted that thinking in recent years.
Many experts now argue that the risk associated with transplanting an infected organ is very small and that even if a virus like hepatitis C is passed along during surgery, the condition can be managed and often cured with appropriate treatment. This thinking has been bolstered by an extreme shortage of organs for transplants across the country, which leaves more than 120,000 people waiting for lifesaving surgery every year.
Current data from the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) show that in New England, one in four organ donors who saved lives this year died of a drug overdose. Meanwhile, 22 people die each day waiting for a liver transplant, and every 10 minutes, someone is added to a transplant waiting list.