Aims To estimate the range and severity of heroin overdose related morbidity.
Design Cross-sectional survey.
Setting Sydney, Australia.
Participants 198 heroin users.
Findings Sixty-nine per cent had experienced a heroin overdose, 28% in the preceding 12 months. Of those who had overdosed, 79% had experienced at least one overdose-related morbidity symptom. An ambulance had attended overdoses for 59% of subjects, 33% had required hospital treatment for overdose, and 14% had experienced overdose-related complications of sufficient severity to be admitted to a hospital ward. Indirect overdose-related morbidity included: physical injury sustained when falling at overdose (40%), burns (24%) and assault while unconscious (14%). Direct overdose-related morbidity included: peripheral neuropathy (49%), vomiting (33%), temporary paralysis of limbs (26%), chest infections (13%) and seizure (2%).
Conclusions There appears to be extensive morbidity associated with non-fatal overdose. This is clearly an area that requires more research to document the prevalence and nature of these harms, and factors associated with them.