A NIDA-funded study has demonstrated that the relapse rate for heroin addicts increases with time and that the probability of long-run abstinence depends on the age of first drug use. Those who start daily heroin use at a younger age are more likely to relapse than those who start later.
The study, conducted by Dr. Marnik G. Dekimpe of the Catholic University Leuven in Belgium and his colleagues in Belgium and at the University of California, Los Angeles, examined the treatment histories of 846 patients at methadone clinics in central and southern California. The researchers looked at males and females, whites and Chicanos, most of whom started using heroin between the ages of 17 and 25. Subjects were interviewed over a 4-year period during and after treatment to determine the probability of their relapse to heroin use.
The finding that relapse is connected to time suggests the need for long-term periodic monitoring of a former heroin user's abstinence, Dr. Dekimpe says. The researchers also found drug relapse odds were significantly different across the sociodemographic groups studied, suggesting that prevention resources could be directed to groups at higher risk. No significant differences in relapse probability were associated with either gender or education.