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The U.S. Drug Schedules Explained

At Laguna Shores Recovery, we have a variety of treatment programs specifically for those navigating recovery from substance use and related disorders. Because of our focus on substance use treatment and recovery, we believe it is essential to be aware of the current laws that discourage drug use. Let’s explore how drugs are regulated in the United States.

What Are Drug Schedules?

According to the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Drug Schedule is an attempt to classify all drugs, legal and illicit, into separate categories based on several criteria. The DEA, the governing body overseeing drug scheduling, bases these classifications on historical and current trends while also considering emerging research and the views of the scientific community at large. Some of the factors that affect how drugs are scheduled include:

  • Drug’s potential for abuse
  • The current scientific consensus on the drug’s benefits and risks
  • The nature of the substance and its ability to aid in the production of other drugs
  • Historical and current data on abuse, especially the scope and significance of such abuse
  • Risk to public health
  • Likelihood of psychological or physiological dependence

What Is the Controlled Substances Act (CSA)? 

The Controlled Substances Act (CSA) is the piece of legislation that created the five-tiered scheduling system. This law also established how drugs are scheduled and included provisions allowing companies or private citizens to petition the government for a drug’s rescheduling. Established in 1970, the CSA has been amended several times over the years as different drugs have grown in popularity and rates of abuse. In 1990, the CSA was expanded to include anabolic steroids, and in 1993, the precursors to methamphetamine were rescheduled to help prevent the spread of the drug.

What Does It Mean if a Drug Is Controlled? 

If a drug is controlled, it has a high potential for dependence, resulting in a substance use disorder (SUD). People who struggle with SUD suffer from both short-term and long-term emotional, mental, physical, and psychological consequences due to their use. 

What Are the Different Schedules of Drugs? 

According to the Controlled Substances Act, the five drug schedules in the United States are categorized as follows: 

Schedule I: These drugs have the highest potential for life-threatening abuse that leads to physical and psychological dependence. These are chemicals, substances, and drugs that have no confirmed medicinal use and should not be ingested by anyone under any circumstance. Drugs in this schedule are considered illicit, and at this time include: 

  • LSD
  • Heroin
  • Mescaline
  • MDMA
  • Marijuana
  • Methaqualone

Of course, the use of marijuana for medicinal, recreational, and personal use is legal in some states, and even the FDA has approved products containing marijuana byproducts as Schedule V substances. However, this does not take away from the fact that it is a Schedule I drug, can result in abuse and has a high potential for dependence. 

Schedule II: Drugs in this schedule are substances that have a high risk for abuse and potential for dependence. These drugs are considered dangerous and include opioid pain medications <Link to Fentanyl web page>, sleep aids, and stimulants. Some of the Schedule II drugs currently regulated are: 

  • Fentanyl
  • Hydromorphone
  • Meperidine
  • Methadone
  • Morphine
  • Oxycodone
  • Dextroamphetamine
  • Methylphenidate
  • Methamphetamine
  • Pentobarbital
  • Secobarbital

Drugs in this category may be filled with a paper or electronic prescription, but the CSA prohibits the refill of substances in this schedule. 

Schedule III: These drugs have a lower potential for abuse when compared to substances in Schedules I and II. While these substances have a lower rate of abuse and dependence, they still pose some risks. Examples of these substances include pain medications, drugs used for anesthesia, and appetite suppressants. The list of Schedule III drugs includes: 

  • Benzphetamine
  • Ketamine
  • Phendimetrazine
  • Anabolic steroids

A doctor may prescribe these substances but may not be refilled more than five times without a new prescription. Additionally, refills are only permitted under the supervision of a doctor and must be filled within six months of the original issuance date. 

Schedule IV: Substances in Schedule IV tend to have a lower potential for abuse than the drugs previously mentioned but can still cause physical or psychological dependence in some cases. At this time, Schedule IV includes drugs such as: 

  • Alprazolam
  • Carisoprodol
  • Clonazepam
  • Clorazepate
  • Diazepam
  • Lorazepam
  • Midazolam
  • Temazepam
  • Tramadol
  • Triazolam

Doctors can prescribe these substances over the phone and through a paper or electronic prescription. Similar to drugs in Schedule III, federal law only allows up to five refills within six months of the date the prescription was originally issued. 

Schedule V: This final category of drugs contains substances that have the lowest rate of abuse, dependence, and harmful side effects. However, depending on the substance, the individual, and the context in which the drug is used, Schedule V drugs can still cause physical or psychological dependence. Because of this, it’s essential these drugs are used appropriately. Drugs in this class include: 

  • Cough preparations containing codeine
  • Antidiarrheals that contain atropine/diphenoxylate
  • Pregabalin
  • Ezogabine

Federal law can still regulate the filling and refilling of prescriptions for these substances, allowing only partial refills within six months of the date the prescription was originally issued. 

Stopping Potential Abuse

The U.S. Schedule of Drugs is the body of guidelines that are set in place to control the use, or non-use, of drugs, substances, and chemicals that have the potential to cause severe harm and chemical dependence, which can often lead to substance use disorders. 

However, even with these regulations in place, substance use disorders still exist. If you, or someone you know, has found themselves struggling with addiction and are ready to begin taking the first steps to recovery, we are ready to support you at Laguna Shores Recovery.

The first step to experiencing life outside of addiction is reaching out for support. Call Laguna Shores today at (866) 229-9923 to take your first steps to recovery and regain not only your life but yourself.