Opioid crisis spurred increase in organ transplants, study finds

As the opioid epidemic increases the number of organ donors dying from drug overdoses, an analysis published in The New England Journal of Medicine found this increase has led to more organ transplants in the last five years.

The researchers investigated how drug-related deaths affected organ donations and patient outcomes by looking at data on donors and transplantation over a 17-year period in the U.S. and compared  it to data from Eurotransplant, a collective of all transplantation centers in eight European countries. 

From 2000 through 2016, at least one solid organ was recovered from 103,805 adult brain-dead donors in the U.S., the researchers said.

The researchers found a significant increase in the proportion of organ donors who died from drug intoxication in the U.S., up from 59 (1.2 percent) in 2000 to 1,029 (13.7 percent) in 2016. This jump accounted for a significant part of the rise in organ transplants occurring in the last five years in the U.S., the researchers said.

Additionally, the researchers compared survival at one year after patients received a heart or lung transplantation in the U.S. between organ recipients from donors who died from drug overdose and recipients of organs from donors who died from other causes.

After adjusting for baseline characteristics of the donors and recipients, the researchers found no significant difference in survival after transplantation between the recipients of organs from donors who had drug-related deaths and recipients from donors who died from blunt head injury. They found similar results when comparing for other causes of death among donors.

"In summary, the drug-abuse epidemic has been associated with a sharp increase in the recovery of organs from brain-dead donors in the United States but not in Europe," the researchers concluded.

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