BACKGROUND: A history of illicit injecting drug use makes indication of total hip arthroplasty (THA) in patients with end stage hip osteoarthritis difficult, as the risk of infection with colonized strains is multiplied if the patient continues to inject or inhale illicit drugs. METHODS: A retrospective survivorship analysis of a consecutive series of 27 THA in patients with a history of illicit drug use was performed. Follow-up evaluation consisted of (1) a WOMAC score, (2) a standardized interview including queries on drug habits and eventual additional medico-surgical treatments of the affected hip, (3) a clinical examination in order to complete a Harris Hip Score, (4) radiological examination and (5) blood tests (blood sedimentation rates and C-reactive protein). Defined endpoints were death, implant revised or awaiting revision for deep infection or any other reason and lost to follow-up or follow-up after at least 2 years. RESULTS: Overall, 5- and 10-year implant survival rates with failure for any reason were 61 % (CI: 41;81) and 52.3 % (CI: 29;76) and for septic reasons 70.6 % (CI: 52;89) and 60.5 % (CI: 36;85), respectively. Even if at the time of THA all patients and respective health care professionals confirmed abstinence of illicit injecting drug use, five patients reported occasional use. Declared abstinence of less than 1 year before THA was associated with higher recurrence rates (p = 0.001) and both with higher septic failure rates (p = 0.023, p = 0.061). Positive serology for human deficiency virus did not increase implant failure rates. CONCLUSION: We use this unacceptable high failure rate as evidence when counseling patients and their health care professionals about the appropriate treatment of osteoarthritis in patients with a history of illicit drug use. Furthermore, we support the request of hair analysis for drugs documenting abstinence of at least 1 year before indicating THA.