Call us today
Determining the applications and legal statuses for various drugs can be difficult, requiring the understanding of potential benefits and risks for each available drug. This is why many countries have developed classification systems to categorize various types of, and uses for, pharmaceutical and recreational drugs.
When classifying drugs, it is common to use multilevel systems that divide drugs into different categories. The United States uses a five-level system to categorize various drugs for medical use and legal control. In the case of dangerous or illegal substances, these systems provide additional guidance to limit usage and adverse reactions.
Understanding the severity of a drug’s side effects is crucial in identifying its use. Stronger drugs are listed in levels with more regulatory control and limited legal use. Beneficial drugs with limited negative effects tend to be listed toward the lower levels, where use is more common and less regulated. Those drugs in the middle of the classification system are generally drugs that see more widespread use despite potential negative effects because of their benefits.
Many drugs became popular as prescribed pharmaceutical medications and other medical applications because of their balance of effectiveness, potency, and potential side effects. Without drug classification systems that incorporate levels of acceptable risk, many of the most widely prescribed pharmaceutical medications may not be in use today.
According to PubMed Health, drugs are classified by commonalities, such as their use, ingredient lists, and chemical structures. In the United States, the Drug Enforcement Agency is largely responsible for enforcing drug-related laws and maintaining the list of controlled substances. Law enforcement officials, doctors, and pharmacists use the Drug Enforcement Agency’s drug classification list as a guide for enforcing legal guidelines.
The controlled substance list published by the Drug Enforcement Agency contains five different classifications of drugs. These classifications, referred to as schedules, range from illegal and more dangerous drugs to safer drugs that many people use on a daily basis to manage chronic health conditions and minor pain.
Schedule I consists of the most serious drugs and controlled substances that are not currently used for any medical purposes. These drugs often cause severe side effects and are prone to abuse and addiction. The drugs included in Schedule I represent the longest part of the controlled substances list.
Many of the drugs contained in Schedule I are widely unknown by the general public. Some of the drugs are used in the manufacturing of other products. These drugs are kept under strict control by manufacturers and law enforcement agencies, as they pose serious health risks to the general public. It is not common to come in direct contact with any of these drugs at pharmacies, drug stores, or within a hospital setting, as they are highly controlled and, in many cases, illegal.
Schedule I contains some of the most well-known recreational drugs subjected to restricted use around the world. Government agencies have banned many of these drugs due to misuse or dangerous side effects; however, many still proliferate via the illegal drug trade
Schedule I drugs include the following:
Schedule II contains many medications that remain medically useful despite potential side effects. Some of the drugs in Schedule II are found in moderate amounts in various medications, especially pain relievers. These drugs are intended for use only in extreme situations where other medications fail to work, and they require a prescription. Patients using these medications often need careful supervision to prevent misuse.
The controlled substances on Schedule II include:
Opium and its derivatives, as well as methadone, are used in medical applications. Opium has strong properties as a painkiller, while methadone reduces unpleasant symptoms of opiate withdrawal.
According to the United States Drug Enforcement Administration, these include:
Schedule III drugs are used in medications and medical treatments without side effects from normal use; however, misuse can quickly lead to adverse side effects. Schedule III drugs contain most of the substances that directly affect the central nervous system, either as a stimulant or a depressant.
Those prescribed these medications should be supervised carefully by physicians to monitor for misuse or potentially adverse side effects. Some of the more recognizable drugs classified as Schedule III include codeine and reduced amounts of morphine and opium when they are mixed with other drugs to provide modified potency and effects.
Schedule IV contains substances that are used more often in medications, as they have almost no side effects during normal use. Additionally, these drugs are not often misused in the same manner that other drugs are.
According to the DEA, these include:
The substances are usually found as ingredients in medications to enhance the effectiveness of other ingredients. It is uncommon to interact with the substances on Schedule IV, unless as an ingredient in a medication.
Schedule V contains a wide range of substances, including drugs from other schedules in minimal amounts. These amounts are so minor that it is difficult to get the full effect of the drug unless it is taken in a significant amounts. Schedule V drugs include medications used as an ingredient in other pharmaceuticals.
These drugs include any substances that include less than 200 mg of codeine, or less than 100 mg of dihydrocodeine and ethylmorphine per 100 g of the substance. According to the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, these medications are primarily used in postoperative settings. This includes substances that include less than 2.5 mg of diphenoxylate with 25 mg of sulfate per dose. Opium is included when it is in a substance at a rate of less than 100 mg per gram of the overall substance.
Schedule V drugs present the lowest potential for abuse, and most are easily available, such as antidiarrheal medications or over-the-counter painkillers.
While the five-schedule system has seen widespread use and success in establishing a guideline for categorizing drugs, there are several provisions regarding the rescheduling and reassessment of drug schedules. The Attorney General of the United States has the ability to make temporary changes to the schedules in response to emerging situations, including the development of a new drug.
According to the Federal Register, the DEA can change the classification of a drug based on more current information. For instance, hydrocodone combination products were changed to Schedule II status from Schedule III status in 2014, based on the increased rates of hydrocodone abuse, addiction, and overdose.