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BACKGROUND: The government encourages general practitioners (GPs) to become involved in caring for drug users. However, in some areas of the country, including Bedford, secondary care support is inadequate. GPs in these areas have to decide how to cope with such patients entirely within general practice. AIM: To assess the characteristics and quality of care given without secondary care support to drug users by one practice in Bedford over a decade. METHOD: A search was made of the practice computer for all patients with a problem title of 'addiction drug' between 1986 and 1995. The age, sex, social characteristics, and drug history were recorded. RESULTS: One hundred and ninety-two patients were found, of which 155 took part in the practice programme; i.e. they consulted more than three times. Forty-three patients (37%) who took part and were prescribed Methadone were prescribed this drug as ampoules. Sixty-three patients (40.6%) who took part in the programme stopped using drugs. Thirty-two (33.6%) of the Methadone users became abstinent. A higher proportion of women (13-48%) than men (19-27.7%) stopped using Methadone (P = 0.019). Among patients who had a stable lifestyle, a higher proportion had been prescribed ampoules than mixture (22 out of 28: 78.6%; P = 0.001). Similarly, of those who had a job, eight out of 11 (72%; P = 0.037) had been prescribed methadone ampoules. Two-thirds of all patients prescribed amphetamines stopped using drugs. CONCLUSION: Long-term care of drug users entirely within general practice is feasible. Among those prescribed methadone ampoules, a higher than average proportion had stable lifestyles and had a stable job.