The inhalation of heroin for recreational purposes appears to be associated with early-onset COPD, and specifically with an emphysema phenotype, according to the results of a recent study.

The researchers found that among a cohort of 44 study patients, the mean forced expiratory volume (FEV1) was 1.08L (31.5% predicted), and the mean FEV1/FVC was 0.4. Forty-four of the participants had either a CT scan or lung diffusion measurement. In general, the overall high-resolution CT emphysema scores calculated across the upper, lower and middle part of the lung was 2.3 (5% to 25% emphysema), with 47% of participants presenting with an upper lobe emphysema score of 3 or higher (20% to 25% emphysema). Median reduced lung diffusion was 48% of the value predicted, and accorded with an emphysema phenotype.

According to the researchers, all of the prior heroin smokers developed respiratory symptoms prior to age 40, and a number had died by this age.