Organ Donations On The Rise Amidst Opioid Epidemic

By Beth Leipholtz 05/22/18

Organ donations have been steadily increasing over the last 16 years, though the bulk of the increase has occurred over the last five years.

hand holding out a red heart with surgeons in the background

There may be one slight silver lining in the opioid crisis, as new research suggests that because of deaths related to the epidemic, organ donation has increased. 

Researched published in The New England Journal of Medicine has found that organ donation from those who died of drug overdoses has seen a tenfold increase between 2000 and 2016.

According to Dr. Mandeep R. Mehra, medical director of the Heart and Vascular Center at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, prominent parts of the increase have taken place in the last four to five years.

WTOP, a Washington news site, reports that despite the fact that some people have doubted the viability of organs from individuals who died of overdoses, the study found that the outcomes of transplants in situations like these are very similar to the outcomes in other circumstances. 

While unfortunate that an increase in organ donations has followed an increase in overdose fatalities in the U.S., Mehra tells WTOP that the need for organs has “never been greater.”

According to, more than 116,000 people were on the national transplant list in August 2017 and each day, 20 people die while waiting for a transplant. 

“Our community has to continue efforts and research in not only increasing organ donor awareness but to start looking at hearts and lungs and kidneys we would otherwise leave on the table,” Mehra told WTOP

Mehra also says there are other organ donation possibilities that should also be explored, according to WTOP. These include from the elderly, animals and 3D printing. He tells WTOP that there is already research underway to determine how humans can avoid rejection of pig organs and also avoid any diseases spread by animals. 

“Such research is slowly but surely reaching a stage where it may become a clinical reality in three to five years,” he said. 

Researchers studied whether drug overdose organ donation was also up in Europe, but found no such evidence. This leads researchers to believe that changes to governmental policy here could help curb the epidemic, WTOP states.

“Most European countries restrict the use of these drugs enormously, only toward the end of life in many cases, rather than for the casual treatment of pain syndromes—unlike the United States, where the medical prescription of opioids is quite ubiquitous and easier,” Mehra told WTOP. “So, we can learn a lot in terms of health policy from these findings.”

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Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. By day she is a website designer, and in her spare time she enjoys writing about recovery at, doing graphic design and spending time with her boyfriend and three dogs. Find Beth on LinkedInInstagram and Twitter.