Opioid overdoses tied to surge in organ donations in Michigan and across US

SOUTHFIELD, Mich. (WXYZ) - The opioid crisis is an epidemic killing more people than ever, but the terrible trend is transcending into more organ donations than ever before.

Back in 2007, only 1.6% of Michigan donors who died died from a drug overdose donated organs. Last year that number surged to nearly 16%, according to new data by the Gift of Life Michigan, creating a unique opportunity for those desperately in need.

“It’s hard on them. Its hard on your wife your kids your sisters your brothers,” says John Jackson.

The 54-year-old kidney’s are shutting down. He’s been on a donor waiting list for 2 years.

“It's something that I wouldn’t want nobody to go through even if I didn’t like the person. I still wouldn’t want them to go through,” says Jackson.

He isn’t alone. More than 3,300 people are waiting for an organ in Michigan. But last year, only 320 people who died in the state gave that precious gift of life to others.

And there’s a tragic new trend, the opioid crisis. Drug overdose deaths have spiked, creating a bittersweet opportunity for people like Jackson.

“Depending on the drug and the route, typically the victim succumbs to agnostic injury, agnostic meaning without air,” says Bruce Nicely with Gift of Life Michigan.

Nicely says when that happens, typically, the organs are okay, and advancements in screening mean doctors can detect if an organ has any disease from the drug use.

“We are able now to detect that someone was exposed to HIV for example or one of the hepatitis infectious agents, 3 or 4 days before this event,” he says.

Still, the organs are flagged as “increased risk” - leaving the john Jackson’s with a difficult decision.

Because it’s taking somebody’s brother, you know. Daughter. Child. Father. Mother. Whatever it might be,” he says. “And I did sign the papers for that. Because if there’s any chance that I can get a kidney, that can make me live a little longer, I - I will be glad to do that.”

Dr. Nicely says the uptick is without a doubt a mixed blessing, not just for those getting the organs, but for the grieving families who might get some comfort or hope knowing their tragedy of death gave life to another.

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