The number of organ donors who tested positive for fentanyl in 2018 increased by 26 per cent from the previous year, according to data provided to Black Press Media.
BC Transplant data shows that 29 out of 122 deceased donors, or 24 per cent, tested positive for fentanyl when they arrived at the hospital in 2018.
In 2017, 23 out of 121 donors, or 19 per cent, had the deadly drug in their system at the time of hospital admission.
Preliminary data from the B.C. Coroners Service also shows fentanyl was detected in three percentage points more of suspected illicit drug overdose deaths in 2018.
According to its 2018 summary report, fentanyl was detected in 85 per cent of the 1,489 total suspected illicit drug overdose deaths last year.
These increases came in the same year that a record 502 lives were saved in B.C. by the 122 deceased organ donors.
“Very clearly there has been an increase in the number of people who are dying from opioid overdoses,” Sean Keenan, BC Transplant’s provincial medical director of donation services, told Black Press Media on Tuesday.
He said another part of the reason fentanyl-related donations went up could come down to testing.
“Fentanyl testing is not part of the routine toxicology screens that have been used in the past,” Keenan said. “The increase in fentanyl may be more due to just the fact that we’re testing more for it now.”
He said testing in emergency departments still varies from hospital to hospital, but it has become more common compared to the early years of the crisis.
Keenan went on to note culture shift as a factor.
He said donation physicians and organ donation coordinators have been working over the last few years to promote donation as part of normal end-of-life discussions in intensive care units, so there is greater awareness.
“It’s obviously a major problem, fentanyl and overdoses. It’s really tragic, the number of people who are dying,” he said. “We all want to see the fentanyl crisis over, but in the meantime, we do see more patients who are coming in as overdoses that are becoming organ donors.”
According to the coroners service, the number of illicit drug overdose deaths in 2018 equates to about four deaths per day, making it more than 4.5 times more common than deaths from car crashes.