BACKGROUND: Regional incidence trends in regular heroin use are important for assessing the effectiveness of drug policies and for forecasting potential future epidemics.
METHODS: To estimate incidence trends we applied both the more traditional Reporting Delay Adjustment (RDA) method as well as the new and less data demanding General Inclusion Function (GIF) method. The latter describes the probability of an individual being in substitution treatment depending on time since the onset of heroin use. Data on year of birth, age at first regular heroin use and date of admission to and cessation of substitution treatment was available from 1997 to 2006 for 11 of the 26 regions (cantons) of Switzerland. For the remaining cantons, we used the number of patients in 5-year age group categories published in annual statistics between 1999 and 2006.
RESULTS: Application of the RDA and GIF methods on data from the whole of Switzerland produced equivalent incidence trends. The GIF method revealed similar incidence trends in all of the Swiss cantons. Imputing a constant age of onset of 21 years resulted in almost equal trends to those obtained when real age of onset was used. The cantonal incidence estimates revealed that in the mid 80s there were high incidence rates in various regions distributed throughout all of the linguistic areas in Switzerland. During the following years these regional differences disappeared and the incidence of regular heroin use stabilized at a low level throughout the country.
CONCLUSION: It has been demonstrated that even with incomplete data the GIF method allows to calculate accurate regional incidence trends.