B.C. transplant specialist says drug overdose organ donors on the rise

The Canadian Transplant Society said it makes no difference to transplant recipients if an organ comes from someone killed by drug overdose.

There has been a spike in the proportion of organs coming from donors who have died of drug overdoses in British Columbia, says a leading transplant specialists.

Dr. David Landsberg, head of the province’s renal transplant program, said 25 per cent of the deceased donors that have come into the program so far in 2017 were the result of overdoses.

“Unfortunately, always when there is a donation there’s been a tragedy,” Landsberg said. “But for patients who have been in desperate need of transplants, it’s been a blessing.”

B.C.’s chief medical officer declared a state of emergency 10 months ago over the number of overdose deaths.

The crisis saw 914 people die in the province last year from illicit drugs, a significant portion of which were linked to the deadly opioid fentanyl. F

RELATED: 116 people die from overdoses in January

The crisis has played a role the number of organs donated for transplant, Landsberg said, though part of that growth can also be attributed to improvements in transplant co-ordination and outreach.

All organs are tested for diseases but recipients are still advised when an organ comes from someone who engaged in “high-risk” behaviour, he added.

“Previously we would have shied away from accepting that type of donor because of concerns about disease transmission,” Landsberg said.

“We are equally as concerned today as we were a couple years ago, but we have better systems in place to make sure that there is no active disease, and then to be able to offer it to people in a way which is safe.”

James Breckenridge, head of the Canadian Transplant Society, said it makes no difference to transplant recipients if an organ comes from someone killed by a drug overdose.

“If you were dying and you were told you had 48 hours to live and here’s a guy who smoked crack, would you take his liver, as long as they told you it was healthy? Of course you would,” he said.

Between 2013 and 2016, donors who tested positive for drugs when they died grew from about seven per cent to 22 per cent. These included all drugs, not just fentanyl, and do not mean the donor died from a drug overdose.

A similar trend has been taking place in recent years in the United States, most notably in New England.

Research conducted by the U.S. Health Department shows that between 2012 and 2016, the number of transplants coming from donors who died due to “drug intoxication” more than doubled, from five per cent to 12 per cent.

More than 25 per cent of all deceased donors died from drug intoxication in the northeastern region in 2016, compared to 12 per cent in 2012. The area encompasses Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island.

The Canadian Institute of Health Information says 2,580 transplants were performed across the country in 2015. More than 4,700 patients waited for a transplant that year, while 21 either withdrew or died while on the waitlist.

 

Geordon Omand, The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

FILE - Nathan Cullen speaks to media in Smithers, B.C., Friday, February 28, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
More calls come in for Cullen’s removal as NDP candidate

Gitxsan Hereditary Chiefs demand Cullen’s removal. Ellis says, There’s no place in B.C. for racism

Martin Holzbauer, independent, Nicole Halbauer, BC NDP, and Ellis Ross, BC Liberal Party, are the candidates for the Skeena riding in the upcoming provincial election. (Terrace Standard/BC NDP)
Skeena candidates talk northwest education

Online learning access and early childhood education were common themes

Stikine provincial election candidates (clockwise from top left): Nathan Cullen, NDP; Darcy Repen, Rural BC Party; Rod Taylor, Christian Heritage; and Gordon Sebastian, BC Liberals.
‘Where is Annita McPhee?’: Cullen under fire from opening salvo of all-candidates forum

Four Stikine candidates spar during online debate from Prestige Hudson Bay Lodge in Smithers

David Block, director of development services for the City of Terrace, explains City staff’s new approach to bylaw and official community plan amendments associated with the proposed inland port development. (Jake Wray/Terrace Standard)
City of Terrace changes approach to inland port development process

Keith Estates Neighbourhood Concept Plan to be dealt with separately

Martin Holzbauer, independent candidate for the Skeena riding in the Oct. 24 provincial election, is seen here outside the Terrace Standard office on Oct. 1. (Jake Wray/Terrace Standard)
Learn more about Skeena’s independent candidate

Martin Holzbauer says he wants to bring a unique point of view to the race

FILE – Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry answers questions during a press conference to update on the province’s fall pandemic preparedness plan from the press theatre at Legislature in Victoria, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. sees record-breaking daily COVID infections with 499 new cases over weekend

Two people, both in the Lower Mainland, died due to the virus over the weekend

A passer-by walks past a COVID-19 testing clinic in Montreal, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Canada ‘yet to see’ deaths due to recent COVID surge as cases hit 200,000

Much of the increase in case numbers can be attributed to Ontario and Quebec

Police confirm human remains were found in a recycling bin in Vancouver on Oct. 18, 2020. (Black Press Media file photo)
Human remains found in recycling bin floating near Vancouver beach

Police asking nearby residents to see if their recycling bin has gone missing

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson visits a North Vancouver daycare to announce his party’s election promises for child care, Oct. 9, 2020. (B.C. Liberal Party video)
B.C. parties pitch costly child care programs in pandemic

B.C. Liberals say they’ll deliver on NDP’s $10-a-day promise for lower-income families

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

A B.C. man decided to create a website to help people find family doctors accepting patients. Because Victoria is considered high-demand, clinic openings can’t be posted publicly. (Unsplash)
Vancouver Island man starts website that connects B.C. residents with doctors

Nanaimo man started project to help people find family physicians accepting patients

Voting station at Tzeachten Hall in the riding of Chilliwack-Kent on the first day of advance voting in the provincial election on Oct. 15, 2020. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. VOTES 2020: 380,000 British Columbians head to polls in first 4 days of advance voting

Some of highest voter turnout so far has been seen on Vancouver Island and in Shuswap

Grant and Barbara Howse, in quarantine in Invermere. Mike Turner photo
Denied entry into U.S., Kootenay couple still forced to quarantine for 2 weeks

The rules around crossing the U.S. border led to a bizarre situation for an Invermere couple

Most Read