According to the American Heart Association, a heart donor using illegal drugs or dying from an overdose does not make the resultant transplant unsafe
In 2019, the United States recorded 3,552 heart transplants.
Since March, 2020, 3,661 people have been waiting for a heart transplant.
The need for organs has increased over the COVID pandemic, and tragically, so have deaths from the opioid epidemic across the US. Currently, the opioid epidemic is also connected to a lack of healthcare access and conditions of poverty.
Some were concerned about transplant success rates
But when it comes to using these hearts, the donors’ use of drugs or overdose deaths may create concerns about transplant survival rates among recipients. However, lead study author David A Baran, director for advanced heart failure and transplantation at Sentara Heart Hospital in Norfolk, Virginia, says that this isn’t the case.
According to two studies that examine data from 2019, there is “no downside” to using heart donors who died overdose deaths.
Howard Eisen, chair of the American Heart Association’s Heart Failure and Transplantation Committee of the Clinical Cardiology Council, explained: “This research confirms previous data that these hearts – once considered high risk – are safe.”
“These findings should encourage institutions who are not routinely using hearts from drug users to do so. It will reduce the waiting time and the number of deaths among people on the heart transplant waitlist.”
‘We were wrong’ says Dr Baran
In this analysis, the average age of the heart donors was 32, and the average age of heart transplant recipients was 53.
Using information from hospital urine tests before the donors died, the researchers identified the type and number of illicit drugs the donors had used, including opioids, cocaine, methamphetamine, alcohol, marijuana, barbiturates, amphetamines, phencyclidine (PCP) and others.
The team found that the percentage of surviving heart transplant patients whose donors used opioids and those whose donors did not was about 90% after one year; about 77% at five years and roughly 60% at 10 years.
Dr Baran said: “We thought that illicit drugs like cocaine or methamphetamine, which can lead to heart attacks, would prove to be dangerous. However, we were wrong.
“We should not reject a heart from a donor just because they used one or more illicit drugs.”