What Are Drug Schedules?

Posted in: Addiction

October 30, 2014

A close up of a pill schedule pack

Numerous kinds of drugs are available to people today. Both legal and illegal drugs are regularly sold across America, and people are often able to buy them regardless of their strength and how safe they are to use. The United States government tries to manage both the distribution of these drugs and the consequences that occur when a person is discovered to be using them illegally. One way that the government accomplishes this drug management is through drug schedules, which classify drugs in order to help the public and law enforcement understand the potential consequences of using them.

The Controlled Substances Act

The Controlled Substances Act is a law that was enacted in 1970 in order to regulate the production, distribution and use of many types of drugs. It classifies drugs into five different categories, called schedules. As the act explains, each drug is put into a specific schedule based on the following factors:

  • Its abuse potential
  • Historical and current patterns of people abusing the drug
  • Scientific evidence of the drug’s side effects
  • Current scientific knowledge related to the drug
  • Risk of users developing a dependence
  • Magnitude, length of time and significance of the drug’s abuse
  • Possible risk to public health

The Five Drug Schedules

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) describes the five drug schedules, clarifying that the lower the schedule number, the higher the drug’s potential for abuse and dependence.

The DEA further defines each schedule as follows:

  • Schedule I: these drugs are the most dangerous and have the greatest risk for abuse and dependence. They have no currently accepted medical use. Some examples of Schedule I drugs include heroin and lysergic acid diethylamide.
  • Schedule II: in some ways as dangerous as Schedule I drugs, these drugs have a high abuse and dependence potential. They are distinguished from Schedule I, however, because some of them, such as methadone and oxycodone, can be legally prescribed. Examples of these drugs include cocaine and methamphetamine.
  • Schedule III: these drugs have a lower potential for abuse and dependence. Anabolic steroids and products containing less than 15 milligrams of hydrocodone per dosage unit are both examples of Schedule III drugs.
  • Schedule IV: drugs that have a low potential for abuse and a low risk of dependence are classified in this schedule. Some examples include Xanax and Valium.
  • Schedule V: drugs with the lowest potential for abuse and dependence are classified as Schedule V. These drugs can be used to treat diarrhea, cough and mild pain, and include Lyrica and cough medications that contain less than 200 milligrams of codeine.
Law enforcement agencies use these schedules to better understand the potential risk of a drug. They are also used in order to decide on the consequences for illegally manufacturing, selling and using different kinds of drugs. So, for example, a person who is convicted of illegal manufacturing of a schedule I drug would receive a harsher sentence than a person who was found guilty of illegally manufacturing a schedule IV drug.

Where to Find More Information About Drug Schedules

Drugs can be extremely dangerous, especially when they are illegal. No matter whether a person is producing, selling or consuming an illegal drug, they are placing themselves at some degree of risk for harm. Because of the dangers of many illegal drugs, the United States government has sought to classify them according to schedules, which explicate the level of risk a person takes in using the drug.

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