Genetic polymorphism of the P450IID6 (CYP2D6) enzyme system can be an important component of the variability in response to drug therapy. Interpopulation differences in the prevalence of deficiencies of drug-metabolizing enzymes may be clinically important in the selection and dosage of drug therapies for patients. Since 1980, the State of Minnesota has had more than a 1000% increase in population of Hmong refugees from Laos. The Hmong are frequently treated in our institution's international clinic with virtually no systematically acquired knowledge about the ability of this relatively ethnically pure population to metabolize commonly used Western medications. To further our knowledge of drug metabolism in this population, we identified the prevalence of the poor metabolizer phenotype for CYP2D6 in a sample population of Hmong subjects and compared this prevalence to that in a sample population of white subjects. Urine collected after ingestion of dextromethorphan in 237 healthy Hmong and 280 healthy white volunteers was analyzed by HPLC. Based on probit plots of the metabolic ratios (dextro-methorphan/dextrorphan), 8.9% of Hmong subjects and 6.1% of white subjects were assigned the poor metabolizer phenotype (difference not significant). Weak associations were found between body surface area and metabolic ratio for both Hmong and white men and between smoking status and metabolic ratio for white subjects only. We conclude that the prevalence of poor metabolizers for the CYP2D6 enzyme system is similar between Hmong subjects and white subjects residing in Minnesota and that an antimode of 0.3 for metabolic ratio appears to be reasonable for the populations studied.