To examine pharmaceutical needs, prescribed drugs, knowledge about pharmacotherapy and dietary patterns among indigent children. 101 children (< or =18 y old), typically poor, from low-income families and emigrants coming back home from other countries, registered under Social Care in Chania, Crete. The control group comprised 81 Social Security insured children (< or =18 y old). The length of the study was from January 1995 to December 1997. The socio-demographic profile of the Social Care children reveals a no schooling rate of 9.7% vs 0% of the control group. The most common disease diagnosed in the indigent children was bronchitis (18.5%) compared with respiratory infection (14.6%) in the control group. Tuberculosis was diagnosed in 2.0% of the Social Care indigent children and in none of the insured children. The most frequently prescribed drug category in both groups as Defined Daily Doses (D.D.D.) was for the respiratory system (32.4% vs 21.2%), while antibiotics were the most expensive (41.6% in the indigent vs 54.9% in the control group). Only 27.4% of Social Care indigent patients, versus 51.2% of insured patients, understood the instructions regarding the proper use of their drugs. Regarding the dietary patterns, significant differences were found in the consumption of breakfast every day (73.7% vs 87.7%), red meat > or =4 per week (0% vs 6.3%) and fruits often (60.1% vs 75.0%). The present study emphasises the need for more information on drug use and the necessity for a continuing health educational intervention among indigent children.