To most Americans, drugs are either good or bad, legal or illegal. In many cases, these categories work just fine – after all, there's certainly a significant demarcation between legal drugs, like antidepressants or mood stabilizers, and illegal drugs, like cocaine, but there's a better classification system in place than you may realize.
In medical terms, "good" and "bad" aren't quite descriptive enough, especially when it comes to prescription medications that can still cause harm when used improperly. As such, the government implemented a structure that is now used to classify drugs in the United States. This methodology is not superficial, either; the stratification system in place plays a large role in what drugs are used medically, how they are used, and when they are used.
What Is a Drug Schedule?
If you have ever been prescribed a potentially dangerous drug, like Vicodin after a wisdom tooth removal or codeine for a cough, you've probably heard the term "Schedule" before. This phrase may have been referenced by your doctor, or may be found within the paperwork you receive with your medication. But what does this mean?
In layman's terms, a drug's Schedule is a rather formal way of referring to a drug's classification as identified by the government. Schedules are available in five categories, ranging from highly controlled and potentially dangerous drugs to safer categories with fewer risks.
A drug's placement within schedules is not arbitrary or casual, and actually entails significant research and study. For most substances, this rating system comes during the Food and Drug Administration approval process, with official classification determined by the Drug Enforcement Agency. This process is handled in compliance with the Controlled Substances Act, and all drugs regulated by the government must be classified accordingly. Information on all controlled substances is maintained by the FDA and is freely available for review online.
Despite the implications, Scheduling is not necessarily permanent. If further study and discovery provide new insight into drug use and abuse, the government is permitted to reclassify drugs as deemed fit. While not common, this process does occur from time to time, generally through additional amendments or new legislation. Currently, numerous activist groups are pushing to reclassify marijuana, for example.
A Short History of the Scheduling System
While other countries use similar systems to classify drugs, the United States ranking Schedules are handled in accordance with the Controlled Substances Act, which was passed in 1971 by Richard Nixon. The primary purpose of this act was to create a way to manage and regulate the use and distribution of potentially dangerous medications, or controlled substances. Officially, this act was an amendment to the Public Health Service Act.
The Controlled Substance Act contains two subchapters. Chapter One defines the five Schedules, including chemicals used in the manufacturing process, the difference between unlawful and lawful manufacturing, and the regulations behind control and distribution. Chapter Two covers the import and export of controlled substances as well as prison terms and fines applicable for those who break the law.
Despite the nearly 50 years that have passed since the bill was made into law, the basic structure still applies to this day. Nevertheless, there have been several amendments, most of which expand, change, and provide further detail into the rules laid out in the original act.
A Step-by-Step Breakdown
As referenced above, Schedules are divided into five unique categories. These rankings pertain to pre-determined criteria that are used by the DEA to determine an appropriate place for all potentially dangerous substances. Schedules are outlined in many places, including the 2016 Surgeon General's report, Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General's Report.
The most restrictive class, Schedule I drugs are extremely addictive and are considered to have no medical purpose. These drugs cannot be prescribed and are not available for legal use under any circumstances. Dependency, when used, is often severe and affects the body both psychologically and physically.
Common drugs in this class include:
Schedule II drugs are less harmful than Schedule I substances and do have approved medical use but are still highly dangerous when abused. Prescriptions must be approved by an accredited, licensed physician and cannot be written with multiple refills.
Schedule II drugs come in many forms, including:
A step down from Schedule II drugs, Schedule III drugs are less addictive and dangerous but still can be abused when used in an unauthorized manner. Medical uses are numerous, and prescriptions are less restrictive. A maximum of five refills is permitted for each prescription, providing freer use.
Common Schedule III drugs include:
Schedule IV drugs are considered to have a low risk of abuse and can be taken for a reasonable amount of time without likelihood for dependency. Like Schedule III drugs, prescriptions are permitted to have five refills. Medical use is commonly acknowledged and widespread for these drugs, which include:
The safest class of controlled substance, Schedule V drugs are often prescribed with little risk to users. Refills are not limited, allowing doctors to use their own discretion with patients. They may contain some narcotic substances, but often in limited amounts that are not overly harmful. However, these drugs are still considered strong enough to be controlled, so minimal threat of addiction does exist.
Common options include:
Despite the level of control provided by the government, teens have many ways of securing drugs of all different levels from street dealers as well as online pharmacies. Do not assume that your teen is safe from the effects of any substance that requires a prescription just because the government handles use strictly. Every year, thousands of teens develop drug addictions to medications in these classes.
Ranking and Addictive Nature
Addictive nature is, of course, a significant part of a drug's safety, although it is not the only factor. Accordingly, this is considered a key element in determining a drug's Schedule. This process is considered extremely important: wrongly under-classifying a drug can lead to an increased risk of addiction or overdose, while over-classifying can lead to unnecessary crackdowns on legitimate use.
In order to find a good balance, the DEA uses three main criteria to classify medications:
- Accepted medical use in the United States
- The potential for abuse
- The likelihood of addiction when overused
This obviously weighs addiction heavily in Schedule determination. If you find medications in your teen's room or are concerned about prescriptions offered after surgery or injury, identifying a medication's Schedule can make the likelihood of abuse and addiction clear. While Schedule I and II drugs are not guaranteed to lead to addiction, the risks are significantly higher than that of Schedule IV or V substances.
Caring for Your Teen
As a parent, the prospect of drug addiction in your teen is always frightening. That's why Teen Treatment Center is here to help. In addition to providing assistance for teens in need of inpatient rehabilitation, we also offer resources for parents who are seeking direction and guidance. We realize that parenting a teenager can be exhausting, frustrating, and emotionally challenging, and that's why we're poised to provide the research and results you deserve. Explore additional conclusions drawn by the 2016 Surgeon General's report, or learn more about identifying effective teen treatment. We can even help you work to prevent teen drug abuse before it becomes a problem.
The government works hard to classify drugs appropriately, providing consistent oversight and control over medications that are deemed to be dangerous or addictive. However, teens don't necessarily know or care about these Schedules, seeking out drugs that provide pleasurable effects regardless of risks. If your teen is abusing controlled substances or shows signs of drug addiction, help is here. Contact Teen Treatment Center today at (844)319-5239 to speak to a member of our trained intake counseling team.
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