Can Drug Addicts Who OD Save Other’s Lives?

Playing A Grim Silver Lining of the Opioid Epidemic?

The following material contains mature subject matter. Viewer discretion is advised.

The Doctors often discuss the unfortunate state of our country as the opioid epidemic continues to thrive with the number of overdoses climbing. As horrific as this is, there is a grim silver lining: along with these deaths comes a rise in organ donors. “VICE News Tonight” follows the journey of one high-risk organ transplant from an OD victim in Kentucky to the recipient in Virginia.

This is being seen all over; Myra and Jesus lost a daughter to a drug overdose and their daughter, an organ donor, was able to save four lives. Myra and Jesus join The Doctors on Skype. They explain that the hospital staff, as well as everyone from Donate Life America (a nonprofit organization that helps facilitate organ donations), treated their daughter with so much dignity up until the end of her life and they are “forever indebted to them.”

Watch: Can a Transplanted Organ Be Used More Than Once?

The Doctors invite the Director of the UCLA Kidney Transplantation Exchange, Dr. Jeffrey Veale, to discuss the misconceptions that organs from someone who overdosed are not good, as well as the myth that if you are an organ donor, doctors won’t fight to save your life.

The Doctors took a poll, asking their viewers if they would accept an organ donation from someone who had died of a drug overdose. Only 14% of viewers said they would. Dr. Veale dispels the myth that accepting one of these organs would affect your chances of survival. He explains an organ from someone who has overdosed significantly increases the chances of survival. For someone on dialysis, their life expectancy is only 5-10 years.

Dr. Veale explains in an overdose, the person stops breathing and if their brain is without oxygen for about 10 minutes, they will become brain dead. Their heart, however, is still beating so their organs often recover. The heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys are all tested before they are donated. Often, those who overdose are young with high-quality organs that can save someone else’s life. Even if the person who had overdosed was an IV drug user with hepatitis C, Dr. Veale says he would still use that organ, and then treat the recipient for hepatitis C afterward since there are drugs that can now cure the infection with cure rates at nearly 100%. 

Dermatologist Dr. Sonia Batra notes that a 2018 study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that people who received organs from someone who had overdosed compared to those who got organs from someone who died in a more typical route, for example, a gunshot wound, faired just as well. 

Watch: The Hurdles of Transplanting an Organ Multiple Times

ER physician Dr. Travis Stork also touches on the myth that if you are an organ donor, doctors will not try to save your life. Dr. Veale agrees that this is absolutely not the case. The doctors who try to save someone’s life are disconnected from doctors of another patient in need of a transplant. Dr. Veale himself is an organ donor, and he knows better than most how the system works!

If you are interested in learning more about how to become an organ donor, click here. To watch the full story from VICE New Tonight, visit their website here.

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