Health

Doctors Look To New Medications To Enable Them To Transplant Organs Of People Who Die Of Drug Overdoses

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Evie Fordham Politics and Health Care Reporter

An experimental treatment for patients in need of organ transplants may enable doctors to use the organs of people who die of opioid overdoses despite the risk of transferring hepatitis C to patients.

Studies at Johns Hopkins University, the University of Pennsylvania and other university medical centers have tested the treatment by transplanting drug overdose victims’ organs into patients’ bodies. Then patients go through a six-week or more course of expensive drugs to treat hepatitis C, reported Kaiser Health News.

“This is super exciting because five years ago 100 percent of [the donated] hep C hearts were being buried and now some are being used,” University of Pennsylvania associate professor of medicine Peter Reese said, according to Kaiser Health News. “The world has changed.”

Thirteen percent of organ donors were people who died from drug overdoses, according to 2017 numbers from the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS). However, about one-third of those people tested positive for hepatitis C, meaning that doctors could only use their organs on patients who had already contracted the virus.

With more than 114,411 people waiting for lifesaving transplants in the U.S. according to UNOS, the experimental treatment could lead to much shorter wait times for people waiting for kidneys, hearts and other organs.

Now doctors are calling for the treatment to be tried on larger batches of patients, reported Kaiser Health News. The Johns Hopkins study has cured its first 20 transplant patients of hepatitis C, and Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville is monitoring the treatment on 42 transplant patients.

A Kaiser Health News article told the story of Anne Rupp, a 76-year-old with polycystic kidney disease who lost two family members to the illness. She was able to get a kidney transplant through the Johns Hopkins study.

Hepatitis C is a serious disease that can show no symptoms but lead to liver shutdown. Critics of the experimental treatment protest infecting patients with a disease in order to cure them. Critics also point to the prices of the medications, which may or may not be covered by insurers, reported Kaiser Health News. (RELATED: Report: Record Drug Overdoses Leading To More Organ Donors)

A round of treatment had a price tag of $100,000 in 2013, when the drugs first went on the market, but that price has fallen to $25,167, according to Kaiser Health News.

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