Background: This study aimed to determine the characteristics of heroin users in the first methadone maintenance treatment (MMT) clinic in China.
Methods: In a retrospective chart review, the notes of 3127 heroin users who received both detoxification and MMT at the clinic were analyzed. Their socio-demographic and clinical data were collected, and the frequency of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), Hepatitis C virus (HCV), and syphilis infections was investigated.
Results: The main findings are as follows: (1) 66.5% of the patients were younger than 35 years; (2) 55.1% were married at admission; (3) 32% were non-local residents; (4) the majority had high school level education, a history of smoking and alcohol consumption prior to the initial heroin use, and did not have stable jobs; (5) 28.4% were self-employed; (6) 5.4% of the sample had total hearing loss coupled with loss of speech; (7) 83.4% sniffed heroin or injected it intravenously at the time of admission, but 87.2% had smoked the drug when they first began abusing it; (8) a significant proportion of the patients were infected with HIV, HCV, and syphilis.
Conclusions: Some of the above findings are not consistent with the results of previous studies conducted in Western countries and China. The unique socio-cultural and clinical characteristics of heroin abusers in different regions of China should be considered when MMT services are planned.