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Addict Behav. 2012 Mar;37(3):306-12. doi: 10.1016/j.addbeh.2011.11.028. Epub 2011 Nov 26.

Gender differences in physical and mental health outcomes among an aging cohort of individuals with a history of heroin dependence.

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  • 1UCLA Integrated Substance Abuse Programs, Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, University of California, Los Angeles, 11075 Santa Monica Blvd., Suite 100, Los Angeles, CA 90025-7535, United States.



This paper examines the health status and functioning of an aging cohort of individuals with a history of heroin dependence with a focus on gender differences.


Study subjects were originally sampled from methadone maintenance clinics in California in the 1970s and completed follow-up interviews in 2005-09. Out of the original study sample (N=914), 343 participants (44.3% female) were interviewed (70.6% of those not deceased). Bivariate analyses examined gender differences in participants' overall health status and physical and mental health problems. Scores on SF-36 scales were compared with general population norms by gender and age, as well as between participants in the study sample who did and did not report past-year drug use.


Average age of the study sample was 58.3 (SD=4.9) years for males and 55.0 (SD=4.1) years for females. There were no significant gender differences in past-year drug use (38% of sample) or injection drug use (19%). Women reported significantly more chronic health problems and psychological distress compared with men, and overall poorer health and functioning compared with general population norms. Men under 65 had poorer physical health and social functioning compared with population norms. Men in the study sample reporting past-year substance use had poorer physical functioning, but less bodily pain, than non-users, whereas women with past-year substance use had poorer mental health than other women.


Individuals with a history of heroin dependence have poorer health and functioning than their counterparts in the general population. At a younger age, women reported poorer overall health status and more chronic health and mental health problems than men. Study findings may inform interventions for this population, particularly related to gender-specific treatment needs.

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