July 1993

A 24-Year Follow-up of California Narcotics Addicts

Author Affiliations

From the Neuropsychiatric Institute, UCLA, Los Angeles, Calif.

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1993;50(7):577-584. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1993.01820190079008

Objective:  This study examined longitudinal patterns of narcotics use, other substance use, criminal involvement, morbidity, and mortality among narcotics addicts.

Design:  A 24-year follow-up study. Data were obtained from admission records and two face-to-face interviews conducted in 1974-1975 and 1985-1986.

Participants:  Five hundred eighty-one narcotics addicts admitted to the California Civil Addict Program during the years 1962 through 1964.

Results:  Most of this sample initiated narcotics use before age 20 years and had a mean age at program admission of 25.4 years. In 1974-1975, 13.8% of the sample died and 28.6% tested negative for opiates. Corresponding rates in 1985-1986 were 27.7% and 25.0%, respectively. Substance use and criminal involvement remained high among this sample into their late 40s. In any given year during the 10 years prior to the 1985-1986 interview, less than 10% of the sample participated in community-based treatment programs such as methadone maintenance. Disability, long periods of heavy alcohol use, heavy criminal involvement, and tobacco use were among the strongest correlates of mortality.

Conclusions:  The results suggest that the eventual cessation of narcotics use is a very slow process, unlikely to occur for some addicts, especially if they have not ceased use by their late 30s.