A study was undertaken to determine the potential for adverse drug interactions (ADIs) and drug-disease interactions (DDIs) in a high-risk population of emergency department (ED) patients and to characterize drug-drug and drug-disease interactions in terms of percentage of patients at risk from existing drug regimens, percentage of patients at risk from ED treatment, relation between number of drugs and potential for interactions, types of drugs and diseases posing greatest potential for interaction, and the differences in a general versus community hospital population with respect to these parameters. Records of 205 consecutive patients, 111 from a general hospital teaching facility ED (Facility 1) and 94 from a community hospital ED (Facility 2) were retrospectively reviewed. The records of all patients receiving three or more medications and all patients older than 50 years of age receiving two or more medications were analyzed by two computer programs for the presence of potential drug-drug and drug-disease interactions. A total of 226 potential ADIs were found in 89 patients (47%), with 50% of ADIs being related to ED treatment. A total of 94 potential DDIs were found in 44 patients (21%), with 34% of DDIs being related to ED treatment. The risk of an ADI rose from 13% for patients taking 2 medications to 82% for patients taking 7 or more medications. Eleven medications and four disease categories were identified as having particular potential for interactions. No significant differences were found between the general and the community hospital populations in these respects. ED patients taking three or more medications and patients older than 50 years of age taking two or more medications are at substantial risk for adverse drug-drug and drug-disease interactions. The risk is increased in patients taking particular drugs or having particular disease states.