Opioid epidemic ‘making more organs available for transplant’

The opioid epidemic has at least helped solve another medical crisis – the shortage of organs available for transplant, according to new research in the US.

The work, published in The Annals of Thoracic Surgery by Elsevier, finds that surgeons are using a higher number of hearts transplanted from overdose death donors (ODD) than before.

More than 400,000 Americans are estimated to have died during the last two decades due to their addiction to opioids.

Dr Nader Moazami of the NYU Langone Medical Centre in New York, said: “One of the roles of the transplant community is to at least partially mitigate the tragedy of this exponentially growing problem by maximising the utilisation of organs from ODD.”

Dr Moazami and colleagues reported that overdoses had become the fourth most common cause of death among the 15,904 heart transplant donors recorded between 2000 and 2017.

Blunt injuries accountes for 30.5% of the deaths; haemorrhages and strokes for 22.1%; and gunshot wounds 18.3%; but the opioid crisis led to overdoses accounting for 10.8% on average.

The average had been much lower before the crisis began to snowball. In the worst affected state in the year 2000, the overdose rate was only 5.6% and 33 states had less than 1% of donor deaths attributed to overdoses.

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In 2017, overdoses accounted for more than 20% of all donor deaths in 11 states.

In some cases overdose death donors’ organs are not suitable for transplant, but they are now being used increasingly.

In 2000 just 1.1% of transplants used ODD hearts, but today that number is 16.9%, marking a 14-fold increase.

“The dramatic increase in the rate of ODD utilisation was striking, and it has increased concordantly with the rate of overdose deaths,” said Dr Moazami.

“The significant impact of the opioid epidemic on transplantation is one of the major reasons that organ transplant numbers have increased over the last several years.”

A court case between Johnson & Johnson, the world’s biggest pharmaceuticals and consumer healthcare company, and the state of Oklahoma, is currently ongoing to address the opiod crisis.

Mike Hunter, Oklahoma’s attorney-general, argues that J&J’s marketing deceptively played down the risk of patients becoming addicted to painkillers and also alleges that the company, along with others, pressured doctors to prescribe the drugs.

He says that the consequences of the “public nuisance” created by this marketing campaign could cost Oklahoma up to $17.5bn (£13.8bn) to tackle with programmes addressing drug addiction and abuse.

The company’s lawyer, Larry Ottway, said J&J products made up a small share of opioids prescribed in Oklahoma and carried Food and Drug Administration-approved labels that warned of the addictive risks.

Source: SKY NEWS

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