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Approximately 11% of individuals seen by forensic medical examiners in police custody in London are drug misusers. This prospective survey using an anonymized structured questionnaire attempted to define some of the characteristics of this selected group of drug misusers. The study was undertaken in Metropolitan Police Service stations (London, UK) within the area covered by Group IV Forensic Medical Examiners. One hundred and fifty consecutive drug misusers in police custody were assessed. Of these individuals 77% used heroin; 30% used both heroin and cocaine regularly; 72% were injecting drugs; 32% were being prescribed drugs (e.g. methadone) by general practitioners or drug agencies. Those individuals prescribed drugs spent a similar amount per day on illicit drugs as those who were not (100.30 pounds versus 106 pounds). Four per cent of individuals were HIV-positive; 25.7% were hepatitis-B positive. Only 9.7% were aware that prophylaxis for hepatitis-B was possible. Seventy-four per cent had served previous prison sentences and of those 82% had used class A controlled drugs whilst serving the sentence. It is concluded that drug misusers seen in police custody tend to be recidivists. It seems that some clear means of identifying and ensuring referral and attendance at an appropriate agency may be the only way to break the cycle of drug misuse, prison and further drug misuse in this highly (self) selected group of patients.