In 2020–21, heroin was reported as a drug of concern (either principal or additional) in 6.1% of all treatment episodes (13,600 episodes) (Table Drg.4).
Heroin was the fourth most common principal drug of concern, recorded in 4.6% of treatment episodes (10,300 episodes) (Table Drg.4). This has remained consistent across the 10 years to 2020–21, although the proportion of heroin-related episodes has declined from a peak of 8.8% (12,900 episodes) in 2011–12 across that period (Table Drg.5).
In 2020–21, around 2 in 5 heroin-related treatment episodes listed at least 1 additional drug of concern (39% or 4,000 episodes) (Table Drg.2). The most common additional drugs of concern were amphetamines (30% or 2,100 episodes), cannabis (20% or 1,400 episodes) and nicotine (17% or 1,200 episodes) (Figure DRUGS1; Table Drg.3). These drugs may not have been the subject of any treatment within the episode.
Treatment for heroin use in the AODTS NMDS collection
People who seek treatment for heroin use have several options for treatment, including withdrawal programs (called detoxification) and abstinence-based treatment (for example, residential rehabilitation in a therapeutic community) (O’Brien 2004).
In Australia, one of the most common treatments for heroin use is opioid pharmacotherapy treatment (also known as opioid agonist therapy). Opioid pharmacotherapy involves replacing opioid drugs, including heroin, with a longer-lasting, medically prescribed opioid.
Agencies whose sole function is to prescribe or provide dosing services for opioid pharmacotherapy are excluded from the AODTS NMDS. Data from these agencies are captured in the National Opioid Pharmacotherapy Statistics Annual Data (NOPSAD) collection (AIHW 2022). For more information, please see the 2021 NOPSAD report.
For information on heroin use and harms, please see:
In 2020–21, 5,400 clients received treatment for heroin as the principal drug of concern. Of these clients:
- Over 2 in 3 were male (69% of clients) (Table SC.9).
- Over 2 in 3 were aged either 30–39 (35% of clients) or 40–49 (34%) (Table SC.10). This was consistent for both males and females (Figure HEROIN1).
- Nearly 1 in 5 were Indigenous Australians (19% or 1,000 clients) (Table SC.11). This represents a crude rate of 185 Indigenous clients per 100,000 population (Table SCR.26).
Figure HEROIN1: Clients with heroin as the principal drug of concern, by sex and age group, 2020–21 (per cent)