Researchers Develop a Model for Measuring Heroin Use Based on Dosages of Methadone Given to Addicts

Research on the effects of methadone treatment on heroin use in a community

Investigators at the University of Chicago and the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan developed a model to measure the consequences of changes in the price of heroin on heroin consumption.

The model employs the dose of methadone used to stabilize addicts as a proxy for their level of heroin use. Investigators reasoned that if heroin use changes in response to changes in price, addicts entering methadone treatment will receive a different dose of methadone.

The project was part of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's (RWJF) national Substance Abuse Policy Research Program (SAPRP).

Key Findings

The researchers documented that:

  • There is a strong association between heroin prices and the average dose of methadone used to stabilize addicts in treatment. When heroin prices fell in specific cities, heroin addicts required more methadone to stabilize their addiction. This indicates that addicts had increased their heroin use.
  • Heroin prices fell between 50 percent and 75 percent in most of the cities studied from 1988 to 1995.
  • Although average methadone doses rose significantly from 1988 to 1995, once falling heroin prices were accounted for, there was no apparent real rise in methadone doses.
  • These findings suggest that most of the progress made in methadone dosing is a result of falling heroin prices as opposed to fundamental changes in the way providers prescribe methadone.