Bioethics News

Overdose deaths are boosting organ donation rates

The number of deaths from opioid overdoses has skyrocketed in the US, but public health executives see a big positive in the tragedy – increased organ donation.

Healthcare analysts have written extensively on the ramifications of the US  opioid abuse epidemic – an epidemic that, according to figures released by the Centers for National Disease Control and Prevention, has led to a 14% increase in deaths from opioid overdose in the space of a year (2013-2014).

The most recent topic of discussion has been the spike in organ donations from donors who have died from overdoses.

According to data gathered by the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), the number of donors nationwide who died of overdoses rose by nearly 270 percent – from 230 to 848 – between 2006 and 2015. In New England alone, the number rose from eight to 54 – or by 575 percent – over the last five years, according to statistics compiled by the New England Organ Bank.

“It’s a huge increase,” says Alexandra K. Glazier, the New England Organ Bank’s president and chief executive officer.

Almost 80,000 people in the US are actively awaiting organ donation, and it is estimated that around 22 people on the transplant waiting list die each day.

Some, however, are concerned about the quality of the tissue being donated by deceased addicts. “We’ve been able to place them in New England very successfully,” said Helen M. Nelson, the New England Organ Bank’s senior vice president of organ donation services. “That may not be true in other parts of the country.”

This article is published by Xavier Symons and BioEdge under a Creative Commons licence.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.