One in four organs donated in B.C. during the first six weeks of 2017 came from people who died of an overdose involving fentanyl.
That eye-popping statistic is from a June 20 Canadian Press report that found that during those weeks there were double the number of organ donations in B.C. compared to the same period in the year before.
The increase in available organs corresponds with a sharp rise in drug-overdose deaths.
In five years, overdose deaths in B.C. have more than quadrupled.
Last year, there were 935 fatal overdoses in B.C. That compares to 518 the year before and to 368 in 2014. (This year, B.C. is on track for more than 1,400 drug-overdose deaths. Between 2001 and 2010, the average number of people who died from drugs each year was 204.)
Speaking in Toronto recently, Dr. Randall Starling, head of heart failure and transplant medicine at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, said the United States has similarly seen organ donations rise as the country has struggled with its own shocking rise in drug-overdose deaths.
“Our perception—and it’s not a proven fact—is there, in part, are more organ donors of otherwise young healthy people that are dying from opioid overdoses,” Starling told CP. “It’s a very, very sad situation, and ironic that horrible epidemic is perhaps helping some people.”
According to a June 5 report by the New York Times, this year the United States is expected to see between 59,000 and 65,000 deaths attributed to drug overdoses.
That article notes that in the 1990s, the U.S. saw fewer than 15,000 fatal overdoses each year.
Canada only began compiling national statistics for drug-overdose deaths earlier this month.
That data suggests there were 2,458 deaths caused by opioids across Canada in 2016. However, the statistics are badly flawed. For example, they do not include Quebec, and numbers for Ontario are actually from 2015. It will therefore be at least several years before Canada has a clearer picture of how the ongoing overdose crisis is playing out across the country.