Let’s Play: How Much Do You Really Know About Drug Schedules?

Thanks to constant changes, it's hard to keep up with drug classifications.

Have you ever heard someone mention a Schedule I or Schedule II Controlled Substance? Most of us have seen these labels, but what exactly do they mean?

Let’s break down this drug scheduling system to get a better understanding of controlled substances and their classifications.

Controlled Substances

If a drug is regulated by the government, it’s designated as a controlled substance. It’s listed in the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA), which is broken down into five categories or schedules. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) schedules drugs based on:

  • Accepted medical use in the U.S.
  • Abuse potential
  • Likelihood of causing dependence when abused

Schedule I

Schedule I drugs are highly addictive and have no accepted medical use. They cannot be prescribed and aren’t available for clinical use.

Schedule I drugs include:

  • Heroin
  • LSD
  • Ecstasy
  • Bath salts

Schedule II

Substances in this group are considered a step-down in risk from Schedule I. They still have high potential for abuse, but are currently accepted for medical use or medical use with some restrictions.

Schedule II drugs include:

  • Adderall (used for treating narcolepsy and ADHD)
  • Morphine (opioid/narcotic painkiller)
  • OxyContin (opioid/narcotic painkiller)
  • Vicodin (combination acetaminophen and hydrocodone/opioid painkiller)

Schedule III

These substances pose less risk for abuse than Schedule I or II. However, their abuse can lead to moderate or low dependence. They are accepted for medical treatment in the U.S.

Schedule III drugs include:

  • Tylenol with Codeine (painkiller)
  • Suboxone/Buprenorphine (used for treating opiate addiction)
  • Anabolic steroids (variations of testosterone, used for treating hormonal issues)
  • Ketamine (anesthetic used before surgery)

Schedule IV

Drugs classified under Schedule IV have low potential for abuse and low risk of dependence. They are used medically in the U.S. to treat a variety of physical and mental health issues.

Schedule IV substances include:

  • Tramadol (painkiller)
  • Lunesta (used for treatment of insomnia)
  • Xanax/Alprazolam (used for treatment of anxiety and panic disorders)
  • Valium (used for treatment of anxiety)

Schedule V

Schedule V substances have the lowest potential for abuse. They are used to treat general illness, like the common cold, and contain limited quantities of narcotics. Some of these drugs are probably sitting in your medicine cabinet right now.

Schedule V drugs include:

  • Cough medicine (like Robitussin AC)
  • Ezogabine (used for treatment of seizures)

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