The pharmacokinetics of naltrexone have been scarcely explored in patients during chronic treatment despite the observation that the pharmacological effect of the drug is related to its plasma concentrations. In this study we investigated the time course of serum levels of naltrexone and its active metabolite, 6 beta-naltrexol, in 13 heroin addicts (3 F, 10 M; age 22-32 years) in the 24 h after 100 mg of naltrexone orally. Six patients were studied once, at different times during chronic treatment, whereas in seven patients the study was done at the beginning and after 1 month of naltrexone treatment. Four of these patients also repeated the study after 3 months of naltrexone treatment. Serum naltrexone and 6 beta-naltrexol were assayed by GLC with a nitrogen-phosphorus detector. Our results showed large differences among patients in serum naltrexone and 6 beta-naltrexol levels. On the other hand, there were no differences in serum time course of both substances in the same patient over 3 months. Peak levels and AUCs of naltrexone were lower than those of 6 beta-naltrexol in ten addicts and higher than those of the metabolite in three patients. No significant differences in the apparent half-lives of the two drugs were detected among groups. These data are consistent with the occurrence of a decreased first-pass metabolism of naltrexone in three patients leading to a larger availability of an oral dose. The increased bioavailability of the drug is not very important for opioid receptor antagonist activity but may play a role in naltrexone treatment safety.