NDARC Technical Report No. 159 (2003)
Introduction: Heroin use, with its associated harms, represents a serious public health concern, and generates many challenges for treatment providers. In Australia, an estimated 74,000 individuals are thought to be heroin dependent, with more people treated for dependence on opioids than any other drug class. Despite this, little is known about how effective the main treatment options are in practice.
The Australian Treatment Outcome Study (ATOS) is the first large scale longitudinal study of treatment outcome for heroin dependence to be conducted in Australia. ATOS is coordinated by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC), and is conducted in collaboration with the Drug and Alcohol Services Council (DASC) and Turning Point Alcohol and Drug Centre.
The aims of ATOS are:
The current report presents data from the three month follow-up interview of subjects in the New South Wales arm of the study.
Method: Nineteen treatment agencies were randomly selected from within the three main treatment modalities (methadone/buprenorphine maintenance therapy; detoxification; residential rehabilitation) stratified by area health serv ice. Five hundred and thirty five individuals entering treatment and 80 heroin users not seeking treatment were recruited into the study and interviewed by NDARC staff using a structured questionnaire. 89% of the treatment sample and 83% of the non-treatment sample were successfully recontacted and interviewed at three months. Data was collected on a variety of domains including: treatment experiences; heroin and other drug use, mental health and criminal activity.
Conclusion: The high rate of sample retention and subject participation attests to the feasibility of conducting longer term follow-up studies with groups of individuals entering treatment for heroin dependence. Three months after entering treatment there were substantial reductions in heroin use, other drug use, and in criminal activity. In addition, there were substantial improvements in mental and physical health. These results confirm, for the first time in a naturalistic Australian setting, the results of previous clinical trials and overseas research indicating that treatment for heroin dependence is associated with marked reductions in drug use, criminal activity and in substantial improvements in mental health in the short term. The twelve month follow-up results will be reported in future reports.
Citation: Ross, J., Lynskey, M., Teesson, M., Darke, S., Havard, A., Mills, K., Williamson, A., Hetherington, K. and Fairbairn, S. (2003) Three month outcomes for the treatment of heroin dependence: Findings from the Australian Treatment Outcome Study (ATOS) News South Wales, Sydney: National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre.