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Landmark study to investigate outcomes for long term heroin and other opioid use

Image - Landmark study to investigate outcomes for long term heroin and other opioid use
Date Published:
5 Dec 2017

NDARC has received a $1.19 million NHMRC project grant to continue its landmark study of long term heroin use: the Australian Treatment Outcome Study.

A cohort of 615 heroin users was first recruited in 2001 and followed up at three years. From 2011-2014, 70 percent of the original group were successfully tracked down and followed up again. The study will be led by UNSW Professor Maree Teesson and will follow up the original cohort 18 to 20 years after they were originally recruited to examine long-term mortality, heroin use and remission, psychiatric health, physical health, and health service utilisation.

“Heroin and increasingly pharmaceutical opioid dependence is associated with exceedingly high levels of morbidity and mortality, and a greater burden of disease than any other illicit drug,” said Professor Teesson.

Around 15 million people worldwide inject drugs, with heroin and pharmaceutical opioids being the most commonly injected. Research published by NDARC earlier this year, found that accidental deaths from opioid use (heroin and pharmaceutical opioids) had doubled since 2007 and, in contrast to the late 1990s and early 2000s, are more likely to involve people in their 40s and 50s.

“The findings will provide much needed evidence regarding the long-term and unmet treatment needs of this largely hidden and vulnerable population, at a critical time in a global climate where many countries are in the grip of a heroin and pharmaceutical opioid epidemic,” said Professor Teesson.

“Our earlier studies have demonstrated that opioid dependence is a chronic relapsing condition characterised by poor outcomes and made worse by coexisting mental problems such as depression.”

The new study aims to generate better evidence about the long-term trajectories of opioid dependence and patterns of remission to identify those most at risk and the critical points for intervention.

“We aim to increase our understanding of the longitudinal course and natural history of heroin and other opioid dependence to better inform treatment and guide public health responses.”

The investigators on the study are NDARC’s Professor Maree Teesson, Associate Professor Katherine Mills, Dr Christina Marel, Professor Shane Darke, Dr Joanne Ross and Associate Professor Timothy Slade, and Professor Paul Haber from Royal Prince Alfred Hospital.