Pubdate: Mon, 05 Jun 2006
Source: Sydney Morning Herald (Australia)
Copyright: 2006 The Sydney Morning Herald
Author: Harriet Alexander
Bookmark: (Hepatitis)
Bookmark: (Heroin)


THE mystery of long-term heroin users dying by overdose despite 
experience with the drug may have been solved by a study linking 
overdoses with liver disease.

Researchers have puzzled for years about why heroin users defy the 
laws of experience and mortality that apply to others who practise 
risky activities - the older and wilier you become, the more likely 
you are to survive.

Instead, heroin overdoses are more likely to occur among people who 
have used the drug in a similar way for many years.

The NSW Drug and Alcohol Research Council investigated 841 deaths 
caused by opioid toxicity and found a 10th of those aged 35 to 44 and 
a quarter of those older than 44 had been diagnosed with cirrhosis.

This could make them more susceptible to overdose, said Professor 
Shane Darke, of the Drug and Alcohol Research Council at the University of NSW.

"They've got these phenomenally high rates of ... liver disease," Dr 
Darke said. "If they hadn't died of overdose, they would have died of 

A 70 per cent incidence of hepatitis C and a high rate of alcohol 
consumption may account for the likelihood of liver disease, the 
study said. Nearly a quarter of those studied had multiple-organ 
disease. "They're drinking, they're using heroin frequently, their 
bodies are just wearing out," Dr Darke said.

The council's information manager, Paul Dillon, said the study 
confirmed the importance of getting young users into early treatment. 
"The trouble is, treatment is not particularly attractive to young 
people," Mr Dillon said. "And you see these [problems] 15 years down 
the track."

The latest figures show that 357 Australians died of heroin and 
opioid overdose in 2004. Those aged 25-34 comprised the biggest group 
at 43 per cent, followed by people aged 35 to 44 (28 per cent), 45 to 
54 (18 per cent) and 15 to 24 (10 per cent).
- ---
MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman