Heroin addicts more likely to be organ donors.

Heroin addicts more likely to be organ donors – and lots of people want their organs.

By David Wenner | dwenner@pennlive.com

Not surprisingly, heroin addicts are more likely to die sooner rather than later.

But it might come as a surprise that they’re also more likely to be registered organ donors. And when they die of overdoses but aren’t registered, their families are highly likely to donate their organs, probably out of desire for some good to come from the death.

It’s responsible for a tiny bright spot in the national heroin and painkiller addiction epidemic: The surge in overdoses is putting a dent in the perpetual organ shortage that causes about 8,000 people per year to die while awaiting transplants.

In the United States, 848 people who died of drug overdoses became organ donors in 2015, compared with 473 in 2011. In the service area of the Gift of Life Donor Program, which covers the eastern half of Pennsylvania, 81 drug overdose victims became organ donors in 2015. Prior to the surge in heroin overdoses that began in 2011, an average of about 20 people per year ended up donating organs after dying of overdoses, said Richard Hasz, the vice president for clinical services for Gift of Life.

“I am seeing more frequent donation offers from persons that died of overdoses,” said Dr. Zakiyah Kadry, the chief of transplantation at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

The surge is attributed to the national crisis involving opioid drugs, which include prescription painkillers such as OxyContin, and heroin. People commonly become addicted to a painkiller, then switch to heroin, which has become cheaper and easier to get.

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