- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Organs harvested from patients who died of a drug overdose are safe and effective for transplant patients, researchers wrote in a medical journal on Monday. As the the opioid epidemic continues its toll on human lives, organ donation has increased by 24-fold over a 16-year period.

Organ transplants increased from 149 in 2000 to 3,533 in 2017, one of the positive byproducts associated with the nation’s ongoing and devastating opioid epidemic.

Published in the journal the Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine found that organ donations from overdose deaths had similar outcomes for patients who received organs from a patient who died a traumatic death, the more typical organ donation route.

Concerns over infections and hepatitis-C, which is more common in drug and intravenous drug users, led to an “excess discard” of viable organs that should be minimized, researchers said.

People in need of transplants outpace what is available. In 2017, there were 120,000 patients on national waitlists but only 10,281 donors, the authors wrote.

Overdose deaths, despite national attention and government intervention, continue to rise.

An estimated 63,632 people died of a drug overdose in 2016. Between 1999 and 2015, the total number of overdose deaths are 568,699.

Looking at the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients between 2000 and 2017, researchers found that organs donated from overdose victims showed similar patient survival rates compared to organs harvested from traumatic death donors, particularly for kidneys, hearts, lungs and livers.

Yet, fear of infections showed that a higher number of kidneys and livers were discarded than necessary, the authors wrote, adding that “viral nucleic acid and antibody testing” makes the “true-risk for a window-period infection” extremely low. Also, that people who receive a kidney — even if there is risk of infection — do better than staying on the donor waitlist.

“Although this is not an ideal or sustainable solution to the organ shortage, use of [overdose death] organs should be optimized,” the authors wrote.

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