B.C. Transplant says one-quarter of the organs transplanted in the first six weeks of this year were donated by a patient who died of a fentanyl overdose.
The agency that manages organ donations and transplants in the province recently began tracking the data after physicians there began to see more organs coming from patients who had died of a drug overdose.
The agency also says out of the 51 people in B.C. who donated at least one organ after their death between Jan. 1 and June 8, 25 had a positive toxicology test.
Policies in Canada require patients to provide informed consent before receiving a donated organ from an injection drug user.
Not all died of a drug overdose, nor did they all use opioids, but the spokeswoman for B.C. Transplant says the agency is definitely seeing an increase in organs from opioid-related deaths and is continuing to track and analyze the data.
The agency doesn’t have comparison data on fentanyl deaths and organ donors from previous years because it hadn’t started tracking it yet.
B.C. has been ground zero of the opioid epidemic in Canada, with 575 deaths from fentanyl alone in 2016 – five times the number of 2015 deaths.
Across the country, Canada saw an estimated 2,500 opioid-related deaths in 2016.
In B.C. there were 20 organ donors in the first six weeks of 2017, exactly twice the number in the first six weeks of 2016.
The number of fentanyl-related deaths in January and February went from 73 in 2016 to 139 in 2017.
The most current national data on organ donors is from 2015, when there were 652 deceased donors, as compared to those who donate an organ while they are still alive. That was up from 598 in 2014.
Half of that increase came in B.C.
Most people who die of a drug overdose end up brain dead with a fully functional circulation system, in much the same way as a car crash or drowning victim leaves behind many healthy organs.
All organs are tested for diseases like HIV or hepatitis.
Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press