(WANE) – The opioid epidemic has led to an increase in overdose deaths, but new research from the American Heart Association says those deaths have increased the number of hearts available for potential organ donations.
Medical experts said hearts from people who died of drug overdoses are perfectly acceptable and work very well as transplanted hearts.
The American Heart Association reports, “The two new studies support previous research finding “no downside” to transplanting hearts from people who had used illicit drugs, Dr. Howard Eisen said in a news release. Eisen, who was not involved in either study, is a cardiologist at Penn State Health in Hershey, Pennsylvania.”
“We have new medicines, we have new strategies for taking care of people. Before transplant keeping them alive and after transplant keeping them alive,” said Dr. Eisen.
A second unrelated study found using these hearts could greatly widen the pool of donors and cut wait times for people in need of transplants. The American Heart Association reported as of March 2020, over 3,600 people were waiting on new hearts. In 2019, the United States recorded its highest number of heart transplants – 3,552, according to American Heart Association statistics.
One of the studies found, “no difference in survival rates between heart transplant recipients whose donors had used illicit drugs and those whose donors had not, even if the donor had tested positive for the use of five or more different types of drugs.”
The studies also looked into people with hepatitis C donating their hearts.
“We hope that patients who are awaiting transplants are encouraged to accept hearts from donors who had hepatitis C or who died due to a drug overdose, if their health care team finds the donor heart to be an appropriate match,” senior study author Dr. Ravi Dhingra said in the release. Dhingra is medical director of the heart failure and transplant program and associate professor of medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
You can read the American Heart Associations’ findings by clicking here.