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HomeSurgery & Regenerative MedicineHow the drug abuse epidemic is changing the organ transplant landscape

How the drug abuse epidemic is changing the organ transplant landscape

There has been a rise in solid organ donations in the United States, but this originates from an unlikely place.

From 2000 to 2016, 103,805 solid organs were recovered from adult brain-dead donors in the United States. In Europe, the number of donated organs is at 27,661.

But while in the US the number of donated organs has risen by over 2000 organs across the last 10 years, transplants in Europe has remained relatively constant. In the US, over 7000 organs were donated in 2016, whereas under 5000 were collected in 2000.

When doctor Mandeep Mehra and colleagues at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts investigated the origins of these solid organs, the team found their donors coming from where many might consider an unexpected place – drug abuse victims. They published their results in the New England Journal of Medicine.

From 2000 to 2016, the proportion of organs collected from donors who died from drug intoxication rose 12.5%, from 59 to 1029, a shift that the team found accounted for much of the increase in organ transplantation activity in the US. By contrast, both the number of organs donated by drug abuse victims and the overall number of organ transplants has remained relatively constant in Europe.

To assess whether organs donated by drug abuse victims were safe for recipients, the American researchers measured patient survival at one year after a heart or lung transplant. After adjusting for donor and recipient health, the team found no significant difference in patient survival regardless of where the organs came from.

Based on data, researchers found organs originating from drug-abuse victims to yield similar patient survival rates as organs from donors who died from asphyxiation, stroke, or blunt-head injuries.

Written by Calvin J. Chan, B.Sc.

Reference: Mehra, M.R. et al. (2018). The drug-intoxication epidemic and solid-organ transplantation. New England Journal of Medicine. 378;20.



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