The heroin epidemic is solving a crucial medical need

Heroin and Opioid Drug Effects & Additiction
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.

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

See images of the heroin epidemic:

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.