Illicit heroin use is a worldwide problem, with significant health and social costs.
Treatment is known to be effective in changing heroin use habits, but it often needs to be
provided over a lifetime, with people cycling in and out of treatment. It is therefore important to capture a long-term perspective on heroin use careers. The aim of this project was to build a
lifetime microsimulation model of heroin using careers. This paper describes the conceptual
logic of the model, the input parameters and the verification and validation results. A
microsimulation model was chosen as the most appropriate simulation platform with 9 states,
and 111,400 individuals (aged between 18 and 60) each with gender, HIV (human
immunodeficiency virus) and HCV (hepatitis C) status, and treatment history. Probabilities
associated with crime commission and individually calculated lengths of stay in each state were
determined from multiple datasets. The model included costs associated with treatment
provision, healthcare services, criminal activity, life years lost, and family benefit of treatment.
The final model represented 42 years of a heroin use career for a cohort based on Australian
(New South Wales) data. Individuals cycle into and out of heroin using states (including
abstinence), as well as treatment and prison states. We were able to build a stable, tractable
model and verified all parameters. Validation against external data sources revealed high validity.
While there are limitations associated with any model, the heroin career model now has the
potential to be used for simulations of alternate policy scenarios.