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Med J Aust. 2000 Nov 20;173(10):528-31.

How many dependent heroin users are there in Australia?

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  • 1National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, University of New South Wales, Sydney.



To estimate the prevalence of dependent or daily heroin users in Australia, and to compare the prevalence in Australia with that in other developed countries.


We applied three different methods of estimation (back-projection, capture-recapture, and multiplier) to data on national opioid overdose deaths in Australia, first-time entrants to methadone maintenance treatment, and heroin-related arrests in New South Wales. We compared our estimates with estimates derived by similar methods in countries of the European Union.


Data on national opioid overdose deaths were obtained from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Data on methadone entrants in NSW were extracted from a database maintained by the NSW Department of Health. Data on arrests for heroin-related offences were supplied by the NSW Police Service.


The best estimates of the number of dependent heroin users in Australia in 1997-1998 from the three methods of estimation were between 67 000 and 92 000 and the median estimate was 74 000. The population prevalence was 6.9 per 1000 adults aged 15-54 years. The prevalence of heroin dependence in Australia is the same as that in Britain (7 per 1000) and within the range of recently derived estimates in the European Union (3-8 per 1000 adults aged 15-54 years).


Although the exact figures need to be interpreted with caution, our estimates suggest that Australia has a substantial public health problem with dependent heroin use that is of a magnitude similar to that in comparable European societies.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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