B.C.’s overdose epidemic, especially deaths involving fentanyl, is behind a significant increase in the number of organ transplant donors, according to a B.C. Transplant agency leader.

Experts started to see the trend six months ago when overdoses surged to record highs, said Dr. David Landsberg, provincial medical director of transplant services.

Of the 59 donor organs (from 20 donors) used in transplants in the first six weeks of this year, a quarter were from people who died of an overdose, he said. That compares to 37 organs from 10 donors transplanted in the same time period of 2016. Kidneys are the most commonly transplanted organs in B.C.

Operating rooms are much busier with transplant surgeries and “one reason for sure is fentanyl,” he said in an interview on Wednesday.

“This epidemic is obviously causing a tremendous number of deaths and one of the byproducts of these deaths is that some people can be donors. There’s a significant number of donors in the last six months who overdosed with fentanyl,” said Landsberg, a nephrologist who is physician-leader of the kidney transplant program at St. Paul’s Hospital.

While officials at B.C. Transplant have been loath to draw conclusions based on the first six weeks of 2017, Landsberg said fentanyl is a “distinct and significant” factor.

“I would say they represent more than 25 per cent of donors now. I have a (case) call today involving fentanyl and I had one yesterday. I even had one last weekend while I was on a chairlift in Whistler…. It’s pretty dramatic.”

Deaths from drug overdoses are now the leading cause of unnatural death in B.C., far surpassing motor vehicle crashes.

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