In a rising tide of tragedy with no end in sight, figures through half of this year point to another record year of opiod-related deaths across the country in 2017.
The number of organ donors who died of overdoses more than doubled across the country from 625 in 2014 to 1,263 in 2016, and is projected to rise to about 1,400 this year, according to federal data. That same data shows that most of that increase came from Appalachian states like Pennsylvania, the Northeast and the Midwest, which tracks with where the opioid epidemic has hit hardest.
“It’s tragic,” said Dr. David Klassen, Chief Medical Officer for the United Network for Organ Sharing, the organization that oversees the nation’s organ transplant system. “But [by recovering the increased number of organs] we’re trying to salvage a young person’s tragic death.”
In just one year, from 2015 to 2016, the Center for Organ Recovery and Education (CORE), the organization that recovers organs in Western Pennsylvania, more than doubled the number of cases of people who donated organs after dying of an overdose in just one year, rising from 21 in 2015 to 46 in 2016.
This year, CORE, whose area also includes West Virginia and a small portion of New York, is on pace to increase that figure by at least 50 percent. With 34 cases of donation from overdoses through the end of June, it is on pace to have 68 by year’s end.
The dramatic rise in organ donations is the reason CORE set a record for the number of deceased donors from any cause — 237 — in 2016, which also meant a record number of people received life-saving organ transplants.
“ ‘Record.’ It sounds strange to say it that way,” said Kurt Shutterly, CORE’s chief operating officer. “I’d rather say that we had more donors than we ever had. It’s sad. It’s just tragic what is happening.”
With no expectation that it will slow down this year, CORE in January approved increasing the number of organ procurement coordinators — the employees who go to the hospitals to try to convince families to donate organs and to evaluate the organs themselves — from 15 to 20.
“We’re evaluating more drug-related deaths than ever before,” said Mr. Shutterly, who began with CORE in 2000 as an organ procurement coordinator. “And I don’t see anything changing that right now and that’s a tragedy.”Share