Using various administration schedules, the physical dependence produced by dihydroetorphine (DHE) was compared with that of morphine in mice. Physical dependence, evaluated by naloxone-precipitated withdrawal signs, did not develop following daily treatment with DHE (10, 20, 100 and 1000 micrograms/kg, i.p. or 30, 100 and 1000 ng/mouse, i.c.v.) for 6 d. However, 5 repeated injections of DHE (10 micrograms/kg, i.p.) at 1 or 2 h intervals did produce physical dependence and the dependent state disappeared after 2 h. Accordingly, it was demonstrated that a sufficient degree of antinociceptive activity needed to be maintained, longer than several hours, for the development of physical dependence on DHE and that the duration of the dependent state was very short. In the single dose suppression test, a single dose of DHE completely suppressed the natural withdrawal signs that appeared following abstinence in morphine-dependent animals without reappearance of significant withdrawal signs, indicating the suitability of DHE as a substitute for morphine. The characteristic properties of DHE, the extremely potent antinociceptive effect and minimal dependence, indicate the separation of the antinociceptive effect from dependence, and suggest that it may be possible to develop a novel drug which may be safely used in clinical situations.