Aims: To assess the relationship between methadone treatment (MT) and overdose and HIV/AIDS mortality among heroin users resident in Barcelona city.
Design: All patients who started treatment in any treatment centre between 1992 and 1997 were included in a cohort the first time they were admitted for heroin addiction treatment. Follow-up controls were carried out every 9 months, on average, until 31 December 1999. Variables, both constant and varying over time, were fitted into Cox regression models.
Findings: The study recruited 5049 patients, which provided 23,048.2 person-years. Fifty per cent were in MT during the study period; of the total cohort 1005 patients died: 38.4% due to AIDS, 34.7% to overdose and 27% to other causes. Overall mortality decreased from 5.9 deaths per 100 person-years in 1992 to 1.6 in 1999. Globally, life expectancy at birth was 39 years, 38 years lower than that of the general population. The main factor for overdose mortality was not being in MT at the time of death [relative ratio (RR) = 7.1]; other factors were being a current injector at baseline and being HIV positive. For AIDS mortality, the main factor was the calendar year (RR for 1996 versus 1999 = 4.6), the next major factor was more than 10 years of heroin consumption, followed by not being in MT, being unemployed, then having a prison record.
Conclusions: The observed mortality decline could be linked to the effectiveness of low-threshold MT. The life expectancy of heroin users increased by 21 years during the study period.