Recent literature continues to promote the early use of disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), especially the less toxic agents such as hydroxychloroquine. Reports of combination DMARD treatments have been disappointing, and careful attention must be paid to clinical trial design if the efficacy of combination therapies is to be established. Methotrexate retains its prominent role, and its mechanism of action has been the subject of many reports; its toxicity remains the most common reason for treatment termination. Guidelines for monitoring hepatic toxicity of methotrexate have been published and may help reduce the need for invasive biopsy procedures. Significant risk factors for methotrexate pulmonary toxicity remain difficult to identify. Large placebo-controlled studies of both sulfasalazine and hydroxychloroquine have been reported and have demonstrated the efficacy of these agents in the treatment of early rheumatoid arthritis. Awareness of drug-toxicity profiles is important for physicians who prescribe these agents.