As Lethal Heroin Overdose Numbers Rise, Families Find Solace In Organ Donation

May 26, 2016

It’s hard to imagine an upside to the opioid overdose crisis in the United States. But some families are saying they’ve found one.

Organ banks around the country have noted an increasing number of organs becoming available from donors who have died of overdoses. The New England Organ Bank notes that in 2010 there were eight overdose victims donated organs in the region; in 2015 there were 54. Nationally, 848 organs became available from overdose victims in 2015.

Here & Now’s Robin Young discusses the issue with Alexandra Glazier, president of the New England Organ Bank and Eileen Grugan, a Philadelphia mother whose son donated organs after dying of overdose in 2011.

Interview Highlights: Eileen Grugan

On why Charles decided to become an organ donor

“I’d like to say I think when Charles probably checked that box off that day, it was probably just a, oh, this is the type of person I am. So let me just check this off, it’s the right thing to do. Never in a million years knowing that this is what he would be called to do. And he was.”

On how the organ donation process works

“We did that day in the hospital when they came to us and they took us into a room. It was two doctors and I believe someone from Gift of Life may have been there on the sidelines. And at that point they asked us if we had any thoughts on organ donation. And at that time, when we got the news that he wasn’t going to recover, I believe we were all in a state of shock. And I believe, when that person, when that doctor, asked if we had thought of donation, it was like a hand of God had reached right through and grabbed us. My husband and myself and my daughters said at the same exact time, absolutely.”

“When that person, when that doctor, asked if we had thought of donation, it was like a hand of God had reached right through and grabbed us.”– Eileen Grugan

On how Charles’ addition affected him

“Charles’ disease of addiction had taken him to so many dark, dark places. Charles tried many many times for recovery and did everything in his power, but as my older daughter likes to say, the disease of addiction was just bigger than he was… He had often said he thought he was capable of wonderful things. But the disease pretty much didn’t allow him to do all the things he was capable of doing. I often say he had such a sad story with such a happy ending.”

On reasons to become an organ donor

“We were pretty much like probably a lot of people thinking oh my gosh, would this be the wonderful, miracle or silver lining, that would allow Charles to do everything he wanted to do? He had been clean for fourteen months at the time. And when they walked into the room they said that everything was in pristine condition, and that he had a blood type that actually could be crossed with other blood types. So the expansion was even more people he could help.”

On where Charles’ organs went

“They went to three men, I have reached out to each of them. We’ve corresponded back and forth a little bit. As the Gift of Life group can explain, we only know their first names we don’t know where they live. They do not know anything really about us. I reached out to one of the gentlemen who received Charles’ kidneys and told him we would feel privileged to meet him, and he would say he’d like to do that.”

Watch A Memorial Video Of Charles Grugan



  • Alexandra Glazier, President and CEO of the New England Organ Bank. She tweets @NEOB_life.
  • Eileen Grugan, parent of Charles Grugan, who donated his organs after dying of an overdose in 2011. She’s active with the Gift of Life donor program. Gift of Life tweets @Donors1.

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