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The covert administration of medicines in food and drink has been condemned by some and condoned by others. We used questionnaires to ascertain the views of people caring for patients with dementia in institutions and in the community. In 24 (71%) of 34 residential, nursing and inpatient units in south-east England, the respondent said that medicines were sometimes given in this way. It was often done secretly and without discussion, probably for fear of professional retribution. Few institutions had a formal policy on the matter. Of 50 people caring for demented patients in the community, 48 (96%) thought the practice sometimes justifiable, but 47 believed that doctors should consult with carers before deciding. Even if, as most carers and some authorities believe, covert medication can be justified, the poor recording and secrecy surrounding the practice in institutions are cause for concern.