Which Drugs Does the Controlled Substances Act Cover?

Assorted medical pills and tablets in shape of drug capsule : Stock Photo CompEmbedShareAdd to Board Assorted medical pills and tablets in shape of drug capsule. Credit: Andrew Brookes / Getty Images

The Controlled Substances Act, approved by Congress in 1970, set the stage for the war against illegal drugs. It covers drugs that people abuse, including prescription opioids, hallucinogens such as LSD, and marijuana.

Lawmakers put the Drug Enforcement Agency in charge of enforcing the new laws and set forth exactly what drugs it planned to begin controlling. The law makes some of these drugs illegal to prescribe and use and allows doctors to prescribe others, with certain restrictions.

The drugs covered by the law are divided into five categories, called schedules. These schedules help determine both whether the drugs may be prescribed at all, and what kinds of controls are needed for each drug.

Five Schedules of Controlled Substances

Here's a list of the five schedules included in the Controlled Substances Act, along with some of the drugs included in each schedule:

Schedule I: These are drugs that are the most easily abused but have no known, researched, medical application. They include heroin, LSD, marijuana and ecstasy. According to federal law, these drugs may not be prescribed for any reason.

While the federal laws may make their use illegal, in recent years some of the states have reviewed, and overridden laws about marijuana (cannabis), mainly for medicinal use but also for recreational use. Many people believe marijuana relieves their pain.

Schedule II: These drugs also have a high potential for abuse, and are often used for pain control.

Their use can lead to dependence, both physical and psychological. They include morphine, opium and opioids, methadone, oxycodone, and fentanyl.

Schedule III: Less apt to lead to dependence than Schedule II substances, are these drugs which may lead to high psychological dependence, but lower levels of actual physical dependence.

Included in Schedule III are many of the combination pain relief drugs such as those which combine hydrocodone or codeine (Vicodin, Tylenol with Codeine).

Schedule IV: Schedule IV drugs have a low potential for abuse as compared to Schedule III and may include Xanax, Valium, and Restoril.

Schedule V: These drugs may contain limited amounts of narcotics, and are considered to present a very low risk of abuse. Many cough medicines and antidiarrheals are listed in Schedule V such as Robitussin and Phenergan with Codeine.

Rules Surrounding Controlled Substances

The Drug Enforcement Agency has strict rules for doctors who prescribe controlled substances. Doctors must write the prescriptions themselves, and must include such details as the patient's name and address, printed or typed in indelible ink (so that the prescription can't be altered).

These rules must be followed strictly — doctors have gone to prison for such violations as pre-signing blank prescriptions for a nurse-practitioner to later fill in and distribute to patients.

Therefore, if you think your doctor is being extra-careful when prescribing a controlled substance, you're right ... and there's a good reason for the caution.

Learn more about staying safe with controlled substances.

Perhaps an even better choice, learn some of the ways pain can be relieved or controlled without drugs including some mind-body medicine approaches.

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