As opioid crisis rages on, one positive outcome arises from tragedy

Opioid epidemic leads to more organs for life-saving transplants

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - It’s a growing problem with no end in sight. On average, 130 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose. Here in Kentucky and southern Indiana, it’s a major problem.

The opioid epidemic has revealed one sad upside: more organs for life saving transplants.

“Probably three to four years ago we started to see an increase in the number of overdoses that were coming to our ER,” UofL trauma surgeon Dr. Glen Franklin said.

Franklin said the opioid epidemic is by no means an ideal solution to the organ shortage, but with nearly 115,000 people on the national waiting list for a transplant, this is proving to be helpful for those who are waiting for a second chance.

“You are dying while you are waiting,” Franklin said. “I’d say absolutely, I’d take one of those organs.”

According to the Kentucky Organ Donor Affiliates, or KODA, in 2017, 21 of the 108 organ donors were victims of an opioid overdose.

Franklin said doctors evaluate the function of all the organs before they are ever offered to a transplant surgeon.

“The donors blood is all washed out of there,” Franklin said. “You can take them all. You can do kidney, liver, in some cases pancreas, heart and lungs.”

Shannon Adkins’s six-year-old son, Keegan, passed away in a tragic accident in 2011. His organs saved five lives. Adkins is now an advocate working for KODA and Trust for Life. Being a donor mom, she knows why so many people turn to organ donation out of heartache.

“They don’t want that child to be known for an overdose or a bad decision,” Adkins said. “They want that loved one to be known as a hero, a lifesaver, life giver.”

Franklin said the whole concept of giving back or trying to make something positive out of tragic situation can’t be lost.

“Somewhat a silver lining at least for these families that have had such tragedy for their loved ones,” Franklin said. “When your life in this world ends, you can still go on doing some good by being an organ donor.”

Franklin said he often gets asked, “Will people become a drug addict if they take this type of organ?”

The answer is no.

Organ recipients have to agree to receive this type of transplant.

The easiest way to be an organ donor is through the driver’s license program. If people haven’t made their wishes known before they die, their family is the decision maker.

For more information on organ donation click or tap here.

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