A casual user might place drugs into two categories: good and bad. But those labels are a little too limited for governmental agencies, particularly when they’re attempting to determine which substances should be allowed to sit on a store’s shelf and which might need a doctor’s oversight. That’s why governmental agencies use drug schedule classifications. These formal lists provide a significant amount of detail about how specific drugs should be handled.
How Drug Scheduling Works
Placing drugs into categories is tricky work, and there’s a lot at stake. After all, placing a drug into a restricted category could result in a number of arrests, while making a dangerous drug widely available could result in deaths. As a result, there’s a lot of documentation about how the process should work and who should be in charge of it. All of that documentation is available online through the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and it includes good detailed information for anyone who wants to know the specifics of drug classification in this country.
But for those who want a more generic overview, the final responsibility for placement in a drug classification rests with the attorney general. This is the official who can place a drug in one classification or another, and this official can also move drugs from one spot to another. But, before making such decisions, the official must take into account the opinions of experts, including overseas drug enforcement officials, the Food and Drug Administration and medical groups.
The Drug Schedule
At the moment, there are five drug schedule classifications, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration, and they’re ranked in terms of danger with the most notorious drugs in low-numbering classes. This is a brief list of each classification, along with examples of the drugs in each class:
- Schedule I drugs aren’t deemed medically useful and have a very high abuse potential. Often, these drugs are illegal. Examples include: heroin, LSD and Ecstasy.
- Schedule II drugs aren’t quite as harmful as Schedule I drugs, but do have a high abuse potential. Some of these drugs are available by prescription. Examples include cocaine, fentanyl and Ritalin.
- Schedule III substances have a moderate or low abuse potential. Many of these drugs are also available via doctors’ orders. Examples include Vicodin, ketamine and anabolic steroids.
- Schedule IV drugs are still considered somewhat dangerous, but have a low potential for abuse and dependence. Most are available via prescription. Examples include Valium, Ativan and Ambien.
- Schedule V substances contain a small amount of narcotics and are generally used for medical conditions. Some are even sold over the counter. Examples include Robitussin AC, Lomotil and Motofen.
A drug’s placement in a specific category isn’t always permanent. For example, according to the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, experts met in 2013 to discuss the placement of hydrocodone products, which are currently placed in the Schedule III classification, and they hoped to move those drugs to Schedule II. Experts are constantly looking at addiction numbers, attempting to determine whether drugs need greater levels of control or whether the current protections are adequate.
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