Inhalation/smoking has become the most common method of recreational opiate consumption in the United Kingdom and other countries. Although some heroin smokers appear to develop COPD, little is known about the association.
We present data from a cohort of 73 heroin smokers with clinician-diagnosed and spirometrically confirmed COPD, seen within our clinical service, where symptoms developed before the age of 40 years.
The whole group mean age at diagnosis was 41 years, subjects had smoked heroin for 14 years, and mean FEV1 was 1.08 L (31.5% predicted), with mean FEV1/FVC of 0.4. No subject was found to have severe α1-antitrypsin deficiency. Forty-four subjects had either a high-resolution CT (HRCT) scan (32) or measurement of lung diffusion (12). Overall HRCT scan emphysema score averaged across the upper, middle, and lower part of the lung was 2.3 (5%-25% emphysema), with 47% subjects having an upper lobe emphysema score ≥ 3 (25%-50% emphysema). Median diffusing capacity of the lung for carbon monoxide was 48% of predicted value.
Recreational smoking of heroin appears to lead to early onset COPD with a predominant emphysema phenotype. This message is important to both clinicians and the public, and targeted screening and education of this high-risk population may be justified.