Summary We developed and validated a specific 12-item questionnaire to evaluate adherence to oral antiresorptive medication by post-menopausal osteoporotic women in everyday practice. Over the following 9 months, an index of ≤16 was associated with an increase in the risk of treatment discontinuation of 1.69 and of 2.10 for new patients who had started treatment within the previous year. Introduction Adherence to medication in osteoporosis is poor. The goal of this study was to develop and validate a disease-specific questionnaire to evaluate adherence to treatment of women with post-menopausal osteoporosis taking oral antiresorptive medication. Methods A prototype adherence questionnaire with 45 items developed from patient interview, literature review, and physician opinion was evaluated in a sample of 350 post-menopausal women with osteoporosis treated in primary care. Item responses were matched against scores on the Morisky Medication Adherence Scale (MMAS). The most discriminant items were retained in the final questionnaire. Concurrent and predictive validity were assessed. Results Twelve items were associated with MMAS score at a probability level of 0.05. These were retained in the final questionnaire which provided an adherence index ranging from 0 to 22. An index of ≥20 was associated with a high probability of persistence and an index ≤ 16 with a high probability of treatment discontinuation in the following 9 months. Conclusions The ADEOS-12 is a simple patient-reported measure to determine adherence to osteoporosis treatments with good concurrent and discriminant validity. This is the first disease-specific adherence measure to have been developed for osteoporosis. Electronic supplementary material The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s00198-011-1555-8) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.