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To improve drug history taking before anaesthesia, we have previously suggested a checklist with the mnemonic DRUGS (Doctor, Recreational, User, Gynaecological, Sensitivities). We have now tested this mnemonic in 1053 patients admitted for surgery, comparing the results with the information obtained in the original clerking. Use of the mnemonic yielded additional information in 621 patients (59%). Drugs which had gone unrecorded in routine clerking were detected in 24% of patients on medication. Of 199 patients with high alcohol intake, this feature had been recorded in only 38 (19%). Unprescribed medicines, being taken by 158, had been noted in only 31 (20%). Of women taking oral contraceptives or hormone replacement therapy, more than two-thirds had not given this information. Sensitivities had been recorded accurately in 100 patients but the mnemonic yielded relevant information in a further 85. On this evidence, use of the simple DRUGS mnemonic improves drug history taking in anaesthetic practice.