Improving Organ Utilization to Help Overcome the Tragedies of the Opioid Epidemic

Am J Transplant. 2016 Oct;16(10):2836-2841. doi: 10.1111/ajt.13971. Epub 2016 Aug 24.


Death rates from drug overdoses have nearly doubled since 2003, with over 47 000 deaths in 2014. This is largely attributable to the opioid epidemic. If the unfortunate deaths of otherwise healthy people have yielded an increase in organ donors, then this might serve as perhaps the only comforting factor among this tragic and unnecessary loss of life. In this viewpoint, we present data from the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN) that show how the greatest relative increases in the mechanism of death among deceased donors from 2003 to 2014 were drug overdoses. Unfortunately, despite the absolute increase in the number of donors who died from a drug overdose, the mean organ yield was significantly lower than in other categories, in part due to concerns about disease transmission. In this paper, we present data on the changes in donation from donors with a drug overdose as a result of the opioid epidemic and discuss the need to educate transplant candidates and their physicians about the low risk of disease transmission compared to the greater risk of dying on a transplant waitlist.

Keywords: donors and donation; donors and donation: deceased; editorial/personal viewpoint; ethics and public policy; organ procurement and allocation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Donor Selection / standards*
  • Drug Overdose
  • Epidemics*
  • Humans
  • Opioid-Related Disorders*
  • Patient Safety
  • Risk Assessment
  • Tissue Donors / supply & distribution*
  • Tissue and Organ Procurement / standards*