A study published Monday pointed to a surprising side effect of the opioid crisis: 13.4 percent of organ transplants in the U.S. now come from people who died of overdoses, up from 1.1 percent in 2000. During that period, donations increased by around 25 percent.
The study, from the Annals of Internal Medicine, also showed that patients who receive organs from overdose victims live as long as those who receive organs from accident victims, allaying some fears that organs from overdose victims may be compromised by diseases associated with needle usage, like HIV.
Medical ethicist Arthur Caplan said the findings highlight the severity of both the opioid crisis, and the shortage of organs for patients who need transplants.
"The good news is, these are younger people, and so they are good organ donors. But it's a band-aid on the problem that we aren't getting enough organ donors when people die," Caplan said. "I worry we're not making all the efforts we need to encourage people to sign up to be an organ donor."
Caplan said he believes the United States should transition to a system where people must opt out of being organ donors, rather than the current system, where people must opt in.