The heroin epidemic is solving a crucial medical need

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Heroin and Opioid Drug Effects & Additiction

The heroin epidemic is a growing public health crisis in the U.S. -- thousands of people have lost their lives to the drug. But what has so negatively impacted the lives of many is having a positive effect on a different critical health issue in the United States: organ donations.

"It's a silver lining to what is absolutely a tragedy," Alexandra K. Glazier, the New England Organ Bank's CEO and president, told U.S. New & World Report.

SEE ALSO: Opioid users are self-treating addiction with common drug -- but it could be fata

The number of donors who died of overdoses increased by 270 percent -- 230 in 2006 to 848 in 2015.

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The heroin epidemic is solving a crucial medical need
In this May 13, 2015 photo, the contents of a drug overdose rescue kit is seen at a training session in Buffalo, N.Y., on how to administer naloxone, which reverses the effects of heroin and prescription painkillers. The kits are being provided to community members in Erie County who seek training in how to recognize a potential drug overdose and administer naloxone, which reverses the effects of heroin and prescription painkillers. New York and other states have been equipping lay people, as well first responders and families of addicts, with naloxone in an effort to increase the chances it will be there when needed. (AP Photo/Carolyn Thompson)
In Thursday, July 30, 2015 photo Ryan Kinsella poses outside his bicycle repair business in Penobscot, Maine. Kinsella broke his back in a rock climbing accident in 2002. The accident left him with partially paralyzed legs. He is recovering from a long battle with hepatitis C., which he contracted by sharing IV drug needles. The rise of cheap heroin has brought a rise in hepatitis C. Perhaps nowhere is the problem starker than in Downeast Maine, which has the highest hepatitis C rate in a state with quintuple the national average. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
An anti-narcotics agent walks over seized drugs as the narcotics are prepared to be burned in Panama City, Thursday, July 23, 2015. According to authorites, they incinerated six tons of drugs, including cocaine, marijuana and heroin, all seized within the last month. (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)
This April 28, 2015, photo provided by the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office shows a portion of recently confiscated heroin. Authorities in Philadelphia say a drug probe led to the confiscation of 22 pounds of heroin with a street value of $3.3 million. (Philadelphia District Attorney's Office via AP)
This Wednesday, June 10, 2015 photo provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, packages of hard drugs are seen in the rear driver side quarter panel of a car carrying more than $377,000 worth of heroin and methamphetamine, seized at the U.S.-Mexico border port of entry in Nogales, Ariz. Authorities are reporting an alarming increase in the number of methamphetamine seizures at border ports of entry. (U.S. Customs and Border Protection via AP)
In this Jan. 27, 2015 photo, a dead poppy flower stands out after the government aerially sprayed the poppy field with a herbicide in the Sierra Madre del Sur mountains of Guerrero state, Mexico. A community leader said the aerial spraying "poisons the land, the water, and the people and animals who use the water. It's okay if the government wants to combat these crops, but they should do it manually, on the ground, rather than with aerial spraying." (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)
This April 28, 2015, photo provided by the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office shows a portion of recently confiscated heroin. Authorities in Philadelphia say a drug probe led to the confiscation of 22 pounds of heroin with a street value of $3.3 million. (Philadelphia District Attorney's Office via AP)
A firearm and 154 pounds of heroin worth at least $50 million are displayed at a Drug Enforcement Administration news conference, Tuesday, May 19, 2015 in New York. The DEA called the heroin seizure its largest ever in New York state. Officials said on Tuesday that most of the drugs were found in an SUV in the Bronx following a wiretap investigation. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
This Tuesday, April 7, 2015 photo provided by the FBI shows seized guns displayed during a news conference in Santa Maria, Calif. FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller says that agents and local law enforcement officers raided houses Tuesday, April 7, 2015, morning and made arrests in the Santa Maria area related to a federal indictment. The indictment charges five members of a family and seven others with selling heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine. The 17-count indictment unsealed in U.S. District Court says they sold some drugs to informants working with federal agents. (AP Photo/FBI)
In this March 2, 2015 photo, Alicia Gibbons holds an empty bottle of naloxone that she used to save the life of her daughter Ashley at their home in Mays Landing, N.J. Officials across the country are agreeing that it makes sense to hand out the antidote to police, families of addicts and drug users themselves but price of naloxone, sold in the U.S. under the brand name Narcan, has doubled in the past year. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
This photo taken Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015, and provided by Delaware State Police, shows what they say are 15,000 packets heroin found in the car of Davon Tucker, of Paterson, N.J., during a traffic stop in Milton, Del. (AP Photo/Delaware State Police)
In this Friday, Dec. 5, 2014 photo, powder flies as an anti-narcotics agent hacks open a package of cocaine with a machete before it's burned on the outskirts of Panama City. According to police, they'll destroy on Friday just over 11 tons of cocaine, marijuana and heroin, seized within the last three months. (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)
An anti-narcotics agent holds a machete as he prepares to hack open packages of cocaine before they're burned on the outskirts of Panama City, Friday, Dec. 5, 2014. According to police, on Friday they'll destroy just over 11 tons of cocaine, marijuana and heroin, seized within the last three months. (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)
An anti-narcotics agent sprays gasoline on seized drugs to be burned on the outskirts of Panama City, Friday, Dec. 5, 2014. According to police, on Friday they'll destroy just over 11 tons of cocaine, marijuana and heroin, seized within the last three months. (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)
Criminal experts display glasses filled with heroin at the headquarters of the federal police in Wiesbaden, Germany, Thursday, Oct. 9, 2014. German authorities have seized 330 kilograms (728 pounds) of heroin worth an estimated 50 million euros (US$63 million) that smugglers brought to Europe hidden in a shipment of cucumbers and garlic from Iran. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)
A city employee organizes bags of seized cocaine to be destroyed at a police base in Lima, Peru, Tuesday, April 29, 2014. Police say they burned on Tuesday more than 11 tons of drugs including cocaine, marijuana, opium and heroin that was seized over the last 5 months. (AP Photo/Martin Mejia)
EMBARGOED UNTIL 3 AM APRIL 28--Syringes are packaged at Boom Health center for distribution to drug addicted users, Friday April 25, 2014 in Bronx, N.Y. New York lawmakers are putting forward a package of legislation that seeks to fight the resurgence of heroin with tougher penalties for dealers, more funding for overdose-reversal drugs and increased insurance coverage for treatment. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
PORTLAND, ME - AUGUST 3: Peppermint Park in Portland Tuesday, August 3, 2015. (Photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
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Organ donation not only saves lives but has proven to comfort families grieving the devastating loss of a loved one.

"Many of the families we encounter have been going through this addiction for several years," Glazier said. "It's almost as if the families were preparing for this death; many feel great comfort in knowing that some good has come out of it."

Although the organs donated from those who have died of an overdose are helping solve crucial medical need, some have raised concerns about the quality of the tissue donated by someone who has suffered from drug addiction.

Some hospitals fear the risk of transferring hepatitis C or other infectious diseases through the organ transplants. But officials say the risks can be reduced by testing and treatment.

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