Type 1 Diabetes Organ Donors Show High Rates of Illicit Drug Use and Suicide

A letter published recently in Diabetes Care says that there is a high rate of illicit drug use and suicide in people with type 1 diabetes who donate their pancreases to the Network of Pancreatic Organ Donors with Diabetes (nPOD). This network collects, processes, and distributes these organs to researchers studying diabetes around the world.

Researchers led by Desmond A. Schatz, MD, of the University of Florida Diabetes Institute, reviewed terminal hospital records of 100 people with type 1 diabetes who donated their organs to nPOD, 45% of whom were female and 79% Caucasian. The donors’ ages ranged from four to 61, with a mean age of 28. They found that the most common cause of death was anoxia, brought on by drug overdose, myocardial infarction, pulmonary embolism, or cerebral edema. “Deaths due to anoxia coincide with a history of illicit substance abuse in 26% (15/57) of cases, and the majority of individuals had positive toxicology upon arrival to medical care,” the authors write.

The researchers also found that eight of the donors had committed suicide, an at average age of 21, with three of the donors under the age of 18 when they committed suicide by either overdosing on their insulin or self-inflicted gunshot wound. The authors go on to write that this suicide rate is similar to the type 1 diabetes registry in the United Kingdom, where 6% of people with type 1 diabetes commit suicide.

The authors note that there are implicit biases in this small study, but they write, “the high rate of suicide and drug use should continue to spur our energy and resources toward caring for the emotional and psychological needs of those living with type 1 diabetes.”

Read more about nPOD here.