Three percent of organ donors died as a result of drug overdoses in 2013, but that statistic has dramatically increased to 18 percent for this year, according to Life Connection of Ohio, a nonprofit organ procurement organization serving counties in western Ohio.
Officials say the majority of those drug overdoses are related to the heroin epidemic ravaging Ohio.
“Heroin is causing younger people to be organ donors,” said Matthew Bailey, education and safety administrator for Life Connection of Ohio.
Bailey said the heroin epidemic has had some impact on organ donation.
“For a long time, people used to think that organ donors only come from traumatic injuries. Heroin overdoses tend to cause cardiac arrests and damage to the brain through lack of oxygen, and that has changed how we place the organs,” Bailey said. “We’re able to, perhaps, place fewer hearts because they had no blood flow.”
So far this year, 28 people in Butler County have died from heroin overdoses, according to the county Coroner’s Office. From 2010 to 2013, 99 people in Butler County, 36 in Warren County and 232 people in Montgomery County have died due to heroin overdoses, according to data collected by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.
A popular myth is that people who overdosed on heroin can’t be organ donors, but Bailey said that’s not necessarily true.
“(They) can still be organ donors. It does make placing their organs with recipients a little bit more difficult from time to time,” he said. “The Public Health Service classifies these donors as increased risk and that classification decreases the number of people willing to receive those organs. But we usually don’t have a difficult time placing organs with recipients.”
Bailey said some younger and healthier transplant candidates may refuse to accept an organ from someone who overdosed on drugs.
“Ultimately it’s a decision between the surgeon and the recipient to determine whether or not that’s a suitable organ,” Bailey said. “With heroin use, there’s the risk of some disease transmission, but we use the most sophisticated testing available to make sure there are no communicable diseases in these organs. As for the function of the organs, we do a number of tests to verify the organs are functioning and share all of that information with the transplant recipient.”
In the last 10 years more than 2,000 Ohioans died waiting for an organ transplant, according to Life Connection of Ohio. Officials said most people, even those who have been addicted to drugs, can still be organ donors.
“What we like to tell everybody is, if you want to be an organ donor, put it on your license and let us make the determination at the time of your death whether or not you’re suitable,” Bailey said.
Bilal Momin, a local kidney transplant recipient, said by being an organ donor, a person can “leave a living legacy for someone else.”
Momin is alive today thanks to Michelle Gee, who donated a kidney to him in 2006. They were members of Freedom Hill Bible Church, 262 South Conover St. in Dayton.
“God made it a reality,” Momin said. “We see each other and say, ‘Hey twin, how you doing?’”
In 1999, doctors told Momin he had kidney failure and needed to go on dialysis. He didn’t want to because he saw his mother and three sisters die after being hooked up to the machine. Some doctors weren’t optimistic that he would survive.
“They said, ‘Well, you know we weren’t able to save any of your siblings and your mother, so you are going to die,’” said Momin.
He eventually agreed to go on dialysis and was hooked up to the machine for approximately five years. Then on Nov. 2, 2006, Gee donated a life-saving kidney to him. Gee told him she wanted to donate the kidney because God told her to.
Momin said he thanks Gee and God for a second chance at life. Since he’s received his new kidney, he has earned a master’s of divinity degree from Payne Theological Seminary and is an assistant pastor at Mt. Zion A.O.H. Church of God in Dayton.
“He gave me a kidney to be active, and my purpose is to serve the Lord and help others. I’ve dedicated my life to that,” said Momin.
For more information or to donate, visit www.DonateLifeOhio.org.
Facts about organ donation
In 2013, Life Connection of Ohio coordinated the recovery of organs from 62 donors, providing 210 life saving organ transplants.
30 people die each day because the need for organs outweighs the supply.
One person can save up to eight lives through organ donation and enhance the lives of 50 more through tissue donation.
All major religions support donation and many openly encourage it.
Source: Life Connection of Ohio