Laboratory rats were given unlimited access to intravenous cocaine hydrochloride or heroin hydrochloride. Animals self-administering cocaine quickly developed a pattern of episodic drug intake, with periods of excessive cocaine self-administration alternating with brief periods of abstinence. Subjects allowed continuous access to intravenous heroin showed stable drug self-administration, with a gradual increase in daily heroin intake over the first two weeks of testing. The general health of the animals became markedly different: those self-administering heroin maintained grooming behavior, pretesting body weight, and a good state of general health; rats self-administering cocaine tended to cease grooming behavior, to lose up to 47% of their pretesting body weight, and to show a pronounced deterioration in general health. The mortality rate for 30 days of continuous testing was 36% for animals self-administering heroin and 90% for those self-administering cocaine. These results suggest that cocaine is a much more toxic compound than heroin when animals are given unlimited access to intravenous drug.