Background: This study examined longitudinal patterns of heroin use, other substance use, health, mental health, employment, criminal involvement, and mortality among heroin addicts.
Methods: The sample was composed of 581 male heroin addicts admitted to the California Civil Addict Program (CAP) during the years 1962 through 1964; CAP was a compulsory drug treatment program for heroin-dependent criminal offenders. This 33-year follow-up study updates information previously obtained from admission records and 2 face-to-face interviews conducted in 1974-1975 and 1985-1986; in 1996-1997, at the latest follow-up, 284 were dead and 242 were interviewed.
Results: In 1996-1997, the mean age of the 242 interviewed subjects was 57.4 years. Age, disability, years since first heroin use, and heavy alcohol use were significant correlates of mortality. Of the 242 interviewed subjects, 20.7% tested positive for heroin (with additional 9.5% urine refusal and 14.0% incarceration, for whom urinalyses were unavailable), 66.9% reported tobacco use, 22.1% were daily alcohol drinkers, and many reported illicit drug use (eg, past-year heroin use was 40.5%; marijuana, 35.5%; cocaine, 19.4%; crack, 10.3%; amphetamine, 11.6%). The group also reported high rates of health problems, mental health problems, and criminal justice system involvement. Long-term heroin abstinence was associated with less criminality, morbidity, psychological distress, and higher employment.
Conclusions: While the number of deaths increased steadily over time, heroin use patterns were remarkably stable for the group as a whole. For some, heroin addiction has been a lifelong condition associated with severe health and social consequences.