During severe hypothermia, shivering is absent. To simulate severe hypothermia, shivering in eight mildly hypothermic subjects was inhibited with meperidine (1.5 mg/kg). Subjects were cooled twice (meperidine and control trials) in 8 degrees C water to a core temperature of 35.9 +/- 0.5 (SD) degrees C, dried, and then placed in sleeping bags. Meperidine caused a 3.2-fold increase in core temperature afterdrop (1.1 +/- 0.6 vs. 0.4 +/- 0.2 degree C), a 4.3-fold increase in afterdrop duration (89.4 +/- 31.4 vs. 20.9 +/- 5.7 min), and a 37% decrease in rewarming rate (1.2 +/- 0.5 vs. 1.9 +/- 0.9 degrees C/h). Meperidine inhibited overt shivering. Oxygen consumption, minute ventilation, and heart rate decreased after meperidine injection but subsequently returned toward preinjection values after 45 min postimmersion. This was likely due to the increased thermoregulatory drive with the greater afterdrop and the short half-life of meperidine. These results demonstrate the effectiveness of shivering heat production in attenuating the postcooling afterdrop of core temperature and potentiating core rewarming. The meperidine protocol may be valuable for comparing the efficacy of various hypothermia rewarming methods in the absence of shivering.