Thursday, 05/17/2018

As more and more people in the United States die of heroin and other opioids, the proportion of organ donors killed by drugs has also increased significantly: the number of drug-related deaths that donated at least one organ has risen from 59 in 2000 increased to 1029 in 2016. Almost 14 percent of all organ donations in the US now come from drug-related deaths.

However, the question is: how safe and functional are organs of people who have poisoned their bodies with drugs? Researchers at the University of Utah at Brigham are now giving the all-clear for lungs and hearts, as they have in the journal “New England Journal of Medicine” report.

The researchers around Mandeep Mehra looked at the transplant records of 2360 patients over the age of 17 and found that drug donor hearts and doses worked as well as organs from people who had died of stroke, cerebral hemorrhage or gunshot wounds a year after transplantation.

Better suited than intended

“We were surprised to see that almost the entire increase in transplant activity in the US over the past five years is due to the drug crisis,” says Mehra. In the US, 110,000 patients are on the waiting list for a life-saving organ. As in Germany, the determination of brain death in the US is a prerequisite for the possibility that a deceased person may be considered as an organ donor.

Heart and lungs were selected for the current data analysis because these organs were particularly sensitive to hypoxia, adds co-author Josef Stehlik from the University of Utah Center for Heart Transplantation. Possible damage would have to be visible soon after a transplant. That was not the case. “So far, these organs are often considered to be unsuitable for organ donation,” says Stehlik and hopes that this will continue to change after the study.

Organ donor card as PDF

In the US, the rate of drug-related deaths has been rising steadily for decades, as has the Drug authority Nida documents , In recent years, however, the number of deaths from opioids such as analgesics, heroin and synthetic fentanyl has increased massively. In 2016, the number of drug-related deaths skyrocketed: 62,000 people died in an overdose that year, 22 percent more than in the previous year. In the Midwest, the death toll grew by as much as 70 percent. For 2017 experts expect a further increase.

Donor organs of drug-related deaths hardly play a role in Germany. Their use is possible – after careful consideration for infections such as HIV or hepatitis – but only if the recipients have previously agreed to accept such organs. “The proportion of organs is extremely low,” reports Birgit Blome of the German Foundation for Organ Transplantation. “He was in the years 2011-13 at only 0.6 percent of all donors.” In 2017, 1272 people died of illegal drugs in Germany.

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