AIMS To compare psychiatric morbidity between 176 female drug users with lifetime involvement in prostitution (prostitutes) and 89 female drug users with no involvement (non-prostitutes) in Glasgow, Scotland. METHOD The Revised Clinical Interview Schedule (CIS-R) measured current neurotic symptoms. RESULTS Prostitutes were more likely to report adult physical (OR 1.8) or sexual abuse (OR 2.4), to have attempted suicide (OR 1.7) and to meet criteria for current depressive ideas (OR 1.8) than non-prostitutes. Seventy-two percent of prostitutes and sixty-seven percent of non-prostitutes met criteria for a level of current neurotic symptoms likely to need treatment (CIS-R > or = 18). Being in foster care (OR 8.9), being prescribed medication for emotional problems in the last 30 days (OR 7.7), adult sexual abuse (OR 4.5), poly drug use in the last 30 days (OR 3.6) and adult physical abuse (OR 2.6) were significantly associated with a CIS-R score of > or = 18 for prostitutes using multiple logistic regression. CONCLUSIONS Higher rates of adulthood abuse among prostitutes may explain the greater proportion of prostitutes than non-prostitutes meeting criteria for current depressive ideas and lifetime suicide attempts.