As overdose deaths increase, so do life-saving organ donations

Debbie Deagle holds onto a photograph from her son Stephen’s graduation from St. John’s Prep in her parent's living room in Sommerville, Mass., last week. Deagle says she walks around the house in the early morning kissing photos of her son. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Debbie Deagle lost her son Stephen not once, but twice.

The first time was when her 32-year-old son fatally overdosed from fentanyl on his way to a treatment meeting. The second time was when a patient who had received his heart from an organ transplant passed away after the surgery.

“To me, that was like my son dying all over again,” Debbie said, sitting in her parents living room on a recent rainy afternoon in Somerville, Mass. “The thought his heart was beating somewhere was a little comforting, and when they told me the heart transplant recipient didn’t make it, that sort of shattered me all over again.”

One of the ripple effects from record numbers of fatal overdoses from heroin, fentanyl and prescription opioids in New England and across the nation, is a spike in the number of organs getting donated.

“We are seeing this here more than nationally,” said Helen Nelson, Senior Vice President of Organ Donation Services at the New England Organ Bank.

Since 2000, the number of organ donors in New England who died from “drug intoxication” has ballooned from 7 to 58 in 2015, according to federal data. Nationally, there’s also been an increase – in 2000, 66 donors died from drug intoxication compared to 848 in 2015. Continue reading
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