The subject of drug overdoses and deaths from substances has been all too common in recent years. Drug overdose deaths are now the most common cause of accidental and preventable death in the U.S., claiming more than sixty-thousand lives every year. Now, more people die from drug overdoses than from car accidents and gunshot wounds. In all of the sadness and misery that is drug deaths, there exists one interesting change in the medical sphere. This is that, for the first time in decades, there are now more organs available thanks to organ donors who died from drug overdoses.
The number of organ donors who die of a drug overdose rose by nearly two-hundred and seventy percent between 2006 and 2015. Statistics show that rampant death from drug overdose has been able to bolster the much-needed supply of organs for people who are in critical health condition. Nationwide, the number of organ donors who donated their organs because of an overdose death rose from two-hundred and thirty in 2006 to eight-hundred and forty-eight in 2015. This information comes from the United Network for Organ Sharing.
There are one-hundred and twenty-million Americans who are on the organ donor list. Many who die from drug overdoses are not on this list, but the family members of a lost loved one will often consent to the departed’s organs being used as donations to people in dire need of them, in the hopes that their loved one’s death will not be in vain. Statistically speaking, the families of addicts are more likely to volunteer their departed loved one’s organs up for medical use, as they feel that in death their loved one can now do some good for others.
Our drug problem in this country is worse than it ever has been before. In 2014, more than nineteen-thousand people died from prescription opioids. By 2016, that number had more than doubled. Combined with all other drug deaths, more than sixty-thousand lost their lives because of a drug overdose in 2016.
When the reports came through that sixty-thousand people died from drugs in 2016, the nation reeled in anguish. That was more than quadruple the number of such deaths in 1999. This problem is now a huge threat to the health and vitality of the American people. It warrants our attention to address it properly.
Eighty-thousand Americans are on the organ waiting list. Twenty die every day because they could not get an organ in time. Because so many Americans now die from drug overdoses, this opens up an entirely new category of organ donations. While donations from people who die from strokes, auto accidents, and heart failure still exceed donations from overdose deaths, donations from this category are increasing rapidly.
Some controversy has occurred regarding organ donations from departed addicts. The obvious question, of course, is to the relative safety of using an addict’s organ in another person’s body. There is a question of HIV risk or Hepatitis C risk, not to mention the perceived risk of the organ recipient becoming addicted to substances due to an organ that has toxic substances in it.
These are valid concerns at first though unwarranted in the long run. Extensive study and testing of organs from fatal overdose victims at the New England Organ Bank have been able to determine that these organs are indeed safe for use. Currently, sufficient testing is being done to ensure that only safe and disease-free organs are being used in transplants. Furthermore, research and testing are being done to devise ways to cleanse selected organs of any and all drug or alcohol residues prior to transplanting the organ.
This is a morbid silver lining, but it is a silver lining nonetheless. In addition to helping hundreds of people who need an organ, this sudden prevalence of overdose deaths also helps the family members and loved ones of those addicts who now feel heartened that their lost loved one is helping another person to live another day.
We can’t let this silver lining distract us from the important task of reducing the number of people who die from overdoses every year, but at the same time, we can’t entirely ignore the fact that, even in death, our lost loved ones are able to help others.