Opioids have immunosuppressive properties, yet their impact on HIV disease progression remains unclear. Using longitudinal data from HIV-infected antiretroviral therapy-naïve Russian individuals (n = 77), we conducted a pilot study to estimate the effect of heroin use on HIV disease progression. Heroin use was categorized based on past 30 days self-reported use at baseline, 6 and 12 months as none, intermittent or persistent. We estimated the effect of heroin use on HIV disease progression, measured as change in CD4 count from baseline to 12 months, using multivariable linear regression. Those with intermittent (n = 21) and no heroin use (n = 39) experienced mean decreases in CD4 count from baseline to 12 months (-103 and -10 cells/mm(3), respectively; adjusted mean difference (AMD) -93; 95 % CI -245, 58). Those with persistent use (n = 17) showed a mean increase of 53 cells/mm(3) (AMD 63; 95 % CI -95, 220). Future studies exploring the effects of heroin withdrawal on HIV disease progression are warranted.