To examine the prevalence of hepatitis G virus (HGV) and hepatitis C virus (HCV) infections in deceased injection drug users and for comparison of the detection rates of HGV and HCV RNA in liver tissue with detection rates in postmortem serum samples, RT-PCR was performed in 50 drug abuse-related fatalities. HGV RNA was detectable in liver tissue samples from 17/50 suddenly deceased drug abusers (34%). In 16 of these 17 positive cases, serum samples were also available but HGV RNA was detected in only 10. From 29/50 anti-HCV positive individuals, HCV RNA was detected in 23/50 liver tissue samples (46%), but HCV RNA was detectable in only 6/22 of the corresponding serum samples. In 12 anti-HCV positive cases (10 being also positive for HCV RNA in the liver), the examinations revealed a coinfection with HGV by detection of HGV RNA in the liver tissue samples. A significant association between the detection of HCV RNA in the liver and the occurrence of antibodies against the HCV NS4 protein, but not against HCV core antigen or NS3 protein was observed. The probability of anti-HCV and HCV RNA positivity increased with the age of the individuals. No HGV or HCV infection was detected in a control group of 50 persons who died suddenly by violent impact. The prevalence of active HCV and HGV infections in injection drug users detected by RT-PCR in liver tissue is in good accordance with data obtained from sera from living injection drug users. In contrast, the detection rate in postmortem serum samples was clearly lower. Possible reasons for this observation are discussed and the use of liver tissue for postmortem detection of hepatitis virus RNA is recommended.