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Organ transplant rate increases with high overdose deaths

January 21, 2018

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The number of organ transplants rose in central Ohio and the nation last year as more organs became available because of the increase in fatal drug overdoses.

The nonprofit group Lifeline Ohio saw a record number of donors and recipients in 2017, The Columbus Dispatch has reported .

The organization saw a “drastic” 37 percent increase in the number of organs transplanted, said Andrew Mullins, Lifeline’s director of partner services.

“We know the drug epidemic that’s sweeping our state, and donation has had an effect on transplant rates,” Mullins said.

Lifeline is the organ-donation service provider for 37 Ohio counties and two counties in West Virginia.

Ohio had the nation’s second-highest drug-death rate in 2016, with 4,329 fatal overdoses. A quarter of Lifeline’s organ donors fatally overdosed last year, a 12 percent increase from 2016.

Amanda Shires said her husband, 28-year-old Tony Shires, helped three people with the donation of his kidneys, pancreas and liver after he overdosed on heroin in October.

“When it’s a hard day, I think, ‘It’s not only bad. Something good did come out of it,’ ” she said.

Becki Brown, Lifeline’s family services coordinator, said there are many misconceptions about organ donations. She said that while overdoses can stop a person’s breathing or their heart, it doesn’t necessarily harm their organs.

For a donation to be possible, a person must be in a hospital, on a ventilator and declared brain dead, according to Lifeline. There are no costs or age limits. People with diabetes or hepatitis cannot be donors.

Organ donations are possible in only 1 percent of deaths in the U.S.

More than 3,000 Ohio residents are currently waiting for a transplant, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing.

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