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Michigan opioid crisis contributes to increased organ donors

By The Associated Press • Mar 6, 2018 at 4:00 PM

DETROIT — Organs from people who died from opioid overdoses have helped fuel an increase in organ donations in Michigan, mirroring a national trend over the last few years, according to groups that oversee transplants.

Overdose victims are often younger than typical donors and can have healthy organs despite their addictions, The Detroit News reported .

Michigan had 320 donors last year, a 26 percent increase from the 254 donors in 2014, according to Gift of Life Michigan, the state's federally designated organ and tissue recovery program. More than 50 of last year's donors died by drug overdose, an increase from 20 in 2014.

The number of organ donors has also increased nationally, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing, which manages organ sharing in the U.S.

"We estimate that in the last few years, it's been about 40 percent (of the increase in donors) that can be traced back to the opioid epidemic," said Dr. David Klassen, chief medical officer with the national nonprofit. "It's clearly a substantial component of it, and it's clearly the largest single identifiable area."

Technology improvements have also allowed for better disease detection, which makes more organs available for transplantation. Other sources cited for the increase include improved procedures at transplant centers and work done by organ procurement groups to encourage organ donation.

Dorrie Dils, CEO of Gift of Life Michigan, said the increase attributed to drug overdose deaths is tragic.

"We're certainly not encouraged by the opioid crisis by any means," she said. But she said organ donation enables tragedy to be turned "into something really amazing for someone else," and noted that people shouldn't assume drug users can't be donors.

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