Jump in organ donations tied to overdoses

The number of organ donations in the United States is skyrocketing, which experts say is partly due to the opioid epidemic.  

Ginny McBride is the executive director of Translife Organ and Tissue Donation Services.  She says more people are dying from opioid overdoses.  It’s a trend her organization has been noticing over the past three to four years.  

“It’s unusual for a new pathway of organ donation to open up. Usually you see donors who have had head trauma or drowning or gunshot wounds to the head. Lately, we have been witnessing a lot of circumstances where patients have abused opioids and who have experienced an overdose of opioids have become organ donors,” said McBride.  

She says most of these fatal overdoses are in people under the age of 40.   

“When you're younger, your organs have not been exposed to things like high blood pressure, cholesterol or diabetes. So, when you're younger, the health of your organs is better than when you are older."

In Orange County, 85 people died from heroin overdoses in 2015 --  a 500 percent increase from 2011 -- according to records released from the Orange County Heroin Task Force.  McBride says several times a day, transplant recipients in the U.S. are receiving organs from victims who died of an opioid overdose.

Jonni Hultin received a double-lung transplant.  She knows nothing about her donor or how he or she died.  

“I received my gift of life September 16, 2012,” said Hultin.  “You take it when you get a match, when you are laying there on your death bed, and you don't know if you're going to live tomorrow.   It's the ultimate gift after a horrible tragedy,” said Hultin.  

Both she and McBride are sad that opioid addiction is to blame.

“Let’s get them help and quit with the pain management,” said Hultin.  “I will be the first to tell you I'd rather we get our hands around this, than continue to get this supply of donors. This is a problem that we have to cure,” said McBride. 

Anyone can become an organ donor.  For more information go to www.donatelifeflorida.org.