PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — As the nation battles the opioid epidemic that is claiming lives in record numbers, there is a new glimmer of hope that those tragic deaths are providing second chances for complete strangers, according to a new study.
Overdose deaths in the United States have nearly tripled over the past 15 years.
The study released recently says that's led to a significant increase in the number of organ donations.
The new research in the Annals of Internal Medicine finds organ donations from overdose victims have increased 24-fold -- an unexpected silver lining.
Hatem Toba cherishes every single day with his family. Three years ago, the healthy father celebrated his wedding anniversary and two days later was in a medically-induced coma.
"I do remember, to some degree, that this could be the end of my life," Hatem Tolba, a transplant recipient, said.
A severe E. coli infection left him with organ failure and he desperately needed a liver transplant.
"What they came to us with is your situation is so difficult right now that we to want you to consider a high risk donor," Toba said.
That donor turned out to be a 21-year-old man who died of a heroin overdose.
"It's a lifesaving legacy out of a pretty horrific public health scenario," Alexandra Glazier, president & CEO at New England Donor Services, said.
The liver Hatem received was infected with Hepatitis C but that can be quickly and easily cured.
Medical advancements has paved the way for using more organs that wouldn't have been considered.
"That's really been a total game-changer, in terms of opening up the potential for donation in these cases," Glazier said.
Hatem hopes someday to meet the family of the person who died and saved his life.
"My purpose is to take this young man's legacy forward to be the best husband and father that I can possibly be," Hatem said.
Thanks to a gift from a stranger that's giving him a second chance.
The research also found that organs from overdose deaths are not inferior to organs from people who died in other ways, in part because they tend to be younger and less likely to have things like hypertension or diabetes.
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