In October 1990, a recall procedure was initiated for the teratogenic drug acitretin, and the recommended post-therapy contraception period after acitretin therapy was extended from 2 months to 2 years due to the possibility of its conversion to the lipophilic compound etretinate. The aim of the present study was to evaluate the communication procedures and their effects as a drug alert from the health authorities, the pharmaceutical company and professional associations of health professionals to the population at risk. A model was used to evaluate communication between three hierarchical levels. Data were obtained via semi-structured interviews and structured questionnaires. Communication procedures were evaluated according to channel characteristics and by analysis of their contents. The effect was measured as whether the drug dispensers identified acitretin users, contacted physicians, and whether physicians communicated in person with the population at risk. The penetration of direct mail from the health authorities and from the pharmaceutical company ranged from 97-98% and 65-94% at Level 2 (health professionals). The population at risk was informed via personal communication with health professionals, and/or the mass media. Of the women at risk, 19% were contacted by a dermatologist, 30% by their GP, and 39% by the pharmacist. 35% was never informed by any health professional. The Dutch health care system is adequately equipped for effective communication between health authorities, pharmaceutical industry and health professionals. Due to problems with identification in terms of past exposure, subsequent personal communication between health professionals and the population at risk was inadequate. Therefore, the role in personal communication of health professionals should be increased, as they can rapidly identify persons at risk as a result of previous exposure. In The Netherlands drug dispensers should have an important role.