One-third of organs donated in B.C. in 2018 came from people who died of a drug overdose

As the province celebrates its 5,000th British Columbian alive today thanks to a transplant, there's one group of people—a group that's often harshly stigmatized—who deserve special recognition for the milestone

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      This afternoon (July 19) B.C. health minister Adrian Dix convened a small celebration in a rooftop garden at St. Paul’s Hospital. The group gathered commemorate the province’s 5,000th person alive today who was saved by an organ transplant.

      "The success of organ transplant is a transformative feat of expertise, coordination, and caring through the province," he said.

      The Provincial Health Services Authority’s Dr. Maureen O'Donnell joined Dix there and praised those who made it possible.

      "Donors are our heroes and this incredible milestone is truly their legacy of the incredible gift of life,” she said.

      There’s one group of British Columbians that’s contributed an especially significant number of those heroes: victims of Canada’s overdose crisis.

      In 2018, people who died of a drug overdose accounted for 32 percent, or roughly one-third, of all organ donors in British Columbia.

      The year before, that number was even higher, at 35 percent, according to statistics supplied by Transplant B.C.

      In 2016, people who died of a drug overdose constituted 22 percent of organ donors in B.C. and, in 2015, they were 13 percent of all organ donors.

      “We have always had some donors who have died due to drug overdose and that number has increased over the last few years,” Elaine Yong, a spokesperson for Transplant B.C., told the Straight.

      The synthetic-opioid fentanyl was detected in the vast majority of the fatal overdoses that led to an organ transplant.

      While a majority of organ transplants in B.C. do not involve a donation by someone who died of an overdose, the number of organ transplants in the province has roughly correlated with B.C.’s increase in overdose deaths.

      There were 63 organ donors in B.C. in 2013, then 61 the following year, 95 in 2015, 97 the year after that, and then 121 in 2017.

      In 2013, there were 333 fatal overdoses in B.C., then 369 the following year, 530 in 2015, 993 the year after that, and then 1,493 in 2017.


      In June 2017, the Canadian Press reported that the United States was similarly seeing organ donations rise alongside the country’s number of 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,” Cleveland’s Dr. Randall Starling said then.