BACKGROUND: Carisoprodol is a skeletal muscle relaxant with the potential for abuse. A carisoprodol overdose is rarely considered fatal. Nevertheless, we encountered carisoprodol in several cases, prompting review of our experience. METHODS: We did a retrospective study of cases examined at the Jefferson County Coroner/Medical Examiner Office from January 1, 1986, to October 31, 1997, reviewing investigative reports and autopsy findings. RESULTS: Carisoprodol was present in 24 cases. Seventeen decedents died of acute drug intoxication. Carisoprodol was never the sole drug detected at autopsy, nor was it ever the sole cause of death. Propoxyphene was a co-intoxicant in 8 of the 24 cases. CONCLUSIONS: Carisoprodol causes respiratory depression. Since the mechanism of death was respiratory depression in 82% of the decedents who died of acute intoxication, we consider that carisoprodol was probably responsible, in part, for those deaths. The simultaneous use of propoxyphene and carisoprodol seems to be especially dangerous.