The life expectancy of people in New South Wales (NSW) dependent on opioids is approximately 65, a deficit of about 15 years, finds a new report.

Mortality rates in a cohort of people who had at least one prescription of an opioid agonist (such as methadone) between 2001 and 2018 in NSW were examined. The cohort included 47,197 people, with a median of 9.8 years of follow-up.

Lead author, Mr Dan Lewer said that there is often a perception that people dependent on opioids have an even larger life expectancy deficit.

“There is a misconception that the average age of death for people who use drugs is in the early 40s; a deficit of 30-40 years compared to the general population,” said Mr Lewer.

“This is wrong, as the new research shows. We found a huge inequality in life expectancy, but nonetheless many people who have used drugs like heroin will live much longer than 65.”

Similarly to people with serious mental illnesses, most deaths among people dependent on drugs relate to non-communicable diseases.

“These large health inequalities are related to multiple causes of death, with drug-related deaths contributing most at younger ages and non-communicable physical diseases at older ages,” said Mr Lewer.

“Most deaths are caused by long-term conditions like heart and lung disease, rather than drug overdoses. This shows the need for improved living conditions and healthcare for this population.”

You can read the full report here.

People can access free and confidential advice about alcohol and other drugs by calling the National Alcohol and Other Drug Hotline - 1800 250 015.

Dan Lewer

Dan Lewer is a public health registrar in London and an NIHR Doctoral Research Fellow at UCL. His research focuses on how the NHS in the UK can provide better care for physical health problems among people who use heroin and crack cocaine. He is a visiting research fellow at the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, UNSW Sydney.