Hope from tragedy: Opioid epidemic leads to more organ donations
Tuesday, November 08, 2016
There are more than 119,000 men, women and children on lists waiting for organ transplants, and every day at least 22 of these will die due to lack of organs. Only 3 out every 1,000 deaths have organs suitable for donation, but one death can save up to eight lives.
Interestingly, upward swings of drug use and drug epidemics lead to a greater number of organ donations. The recent heroin/opioid epidemic is a perfect example. In New York state, 20 percent of donors so far for 2016 died due to a drug overdose. Ten years ago, the number of organ donors having died of a drug overdose was less than 2 percent.
"I would say maybe a fourth of the donors that we helped facilitate at various hospitals in our region last year were the result of some type of overdose or drug abuse," Shaina Kaye, hospital and community services specialist for the Center for Donation and Transplant based in Albany, told the Utica Observer-Dispatch.
"As an observation, a lot of times, parents, they feel very guilty if their son or daughter has overdosed because they think, 'What didn't I do? What could I have done better?' I think, in general, with organ and tissue donation, because of the tragic circumstances, it does offer that sense of peace. Their loved one's legacy will live on," Kaye said.
One person can contribute a heart, two lungs, two kidneys, a pancreas, intestines and liver. Additionally, the corneas can give sight to two others.
New England is also reporting an increase in donor organs from those dying of an opioid overdose. The number of donated organs increased from eight in 2010 to 69 so far in 2016. In other parts of the United States, the increase is there, but less dramatic. The rate of donated organs from drug users across the nation went from 341 in 2010 to 790 as of August 2016.
While the rate of donation due to opioid death increased, other categories of donation have declined or stayed level. Further, the use of donated tissue from those dying of an opioid death was not optimal due to fear and lack of education regarding the tissue viability on the part of patients and doctors.
The social implications of an earlier drug epidemic related to crack cocaine during the 1980s and 1990s also had an influence on greater availability of organs for donation. This drug wave contributed to a higher level of violence and gun-related deaths. And as the use of crack cocaine declined, so did gun violence.
With the decline in violent deaths, there was a decline in available healthy donated organs.
''We don't have so many young people getting killed, and that's a wonderful thing that we can all celebrate, but it also really highlights the need for more people to donate.'' Dr. Stuart M. Greenstein, chairman of the organ availability committee of United Network for Organ Sharing and a transplant surgeon at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, told The New York Times.
As the death rate from violence declined, other changes contributed to even fewer available organs for donation. These included a greater use of seatbelts, motorcycle helmets, car seats and other vehicle safety features resulting a dramatic decrease in on the road deaths. Prior to 1994, the greatest source of organ donation had been motor vehicle accidents.
Organ donation comes from unexpected tragedy. It is important recognize the gift of life and register as an organ donor. Although 95 percent of adults support organ donation, the percentages of registered donors are still low. Montana has 86 percent of the adult population registered, but other states have fewer than 50 percent registered.
A solution to the opioid epidemic cannot come soon enough. Our current wave of opioid-related deaths is sad, but one family's tragedy is another family's hope.
Organ donation is a means to allow a tragic death to prevent another's grief.
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