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What Is A Controlled Substance?

Understanding controlled substances, and why they are so heavily regulated, is one of the best ways to ensure that you do not develop a substance use disorder. This is because there are some drugs that the federal government controls due to their addictive potential.

Taking any of these drugs could increase your risk of developing a substance use disorder. It is recommended that you only use them if you have a valid and legal prescription from a doctor, and you are taking them for a verifiable medical condition. Read on to find out more:

Understanding Controlled Substances

A controlled substance is any drug or medication that can cause you to develop psychological and physical dependence. The law heavily regulates the manufacture, use, and possession of these drugs.

The DEA - the Drug Enforcement Administration - is responsible for classifying and regulating all drugs. The body classifies these substances according to their medical uses as well as their likelihood of causing the development of dependence.

Various other sources refer to controlled substances as any drugs that are controlled tightly by the government due to their potential to lead to substance abuse and addiction. The controls put in place are related to the ways in which these drugs are used, distributed, stored, handled, and produced.

Examples of these substances like anabolic steroids, hallucinogens, depressants, stimulants, and opioids. However, there are some that have known medical uses - also known as medications. They include drugs like Ritalin, Valium, and morphine. These medications are only available through a valid prescription written by licensed medical professionals.

Even so, you might also be able to find some controlled substances that do not have known medical uses. These drugs are illicit in the United States, and include examples such as LSD and heroin.

Controlled Substances Act

The Controlled Substances Act was passed by the federal government in 1970. Law enforcement officials use this act to decrease the rates of substance abuse and addiction among Americans.

This act effectively controls the production, purchase, and sale - as well as the use - of various drugs. It also empowers the DEA to control and monitor the use of these substances, including both illicit and legal drugs.

Since there are many differences between all the various kinds of intoxicating substances, the controlled substances act classifies all of them into 5 broad categories. These categories are known as drug schedules.

They give every drug a classification that both the medical community and law enforcement officials can use to understand what is involved when someone uses and abuses these substances.

Classification of Controlled Substances

Through the various drug classifications, both current and developing substances are properly categorized. In turn, this helps medical experts, law enforcement officials, and lawmakers the ability to understand the best ways to handle different substances. In the same way, scheduling prescription medications, narcotics, and other substances makes the world safer to everyone.

But how does the FDA - the Food and Drug Administration - and the DEA know the drugs that are safe? How do they differentiate between those that are safe and those that are not?

Essentially, studies are conducted on the risks and effectiveness of every drug. These bodies then review all the studies performed before making a decision on where to put it in the schedules created by the controlled substances act.

If a new drug comes on the market, it is thorough assessed and analyzed. This is irrespective of the whether it is a street drug that more people are abusing or a new pharmaceutical medication created for a particular medical purpose.

To determine which schedule it should belong to, the DEA will first determine the abuse potential of the substance. If this is the case, it is added to one of the schedules. However, if it is not, the drug is often given the go ahead to be sold as an over the counter medication.

The DEA also determines the potential for abuse as well as the medical value of the substance. These factors are thoroughly evaluated and analyzed before the DEA places it on a particular schedule.

Drug Schedules

To better understand controlled substances, it is important to have some knowledge of the various drug schedules that are used in the United States. If a substance is under schedule I, it means that it does not have any medical use but it comes with a high risk of abuse and addiction.

On the other hand, all the substances that are in schedules II through to V have medical uses but are in different ranks based on their risk for substance abuse and addiction - from high through to low.

1. Schedule I

If a substance is in schedule I, it does not have any accepted medical uses in the United States. Further, it lacks accepted safety for any use - even under medical supervision. In the same way, the drug also comes with a high risk of abuse and addiction.

Drugs in schedule I are not available legally - meaning that you cannot get them with a prescription from a doctor or any other licensed healthcare provider. Examples of these drugs include:

  • Ecstasy, or 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine
  • Heroin
  • Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD)
  • Marijuana (or cannabis)
  • Methaqualone
  • Peyote

2. Schedule II

If a drug has been placed in schedule II, it means that it comes with a high risk of substance abuse. Taking any of these drugs could cause you to develop severe physical or psychological dependence.

The government has put special restrictions for the dispensation, filling, and refilling of any drug that is in schedule II. For instance, you need to get a written prescription that your health care provider has signed. Further, your doctor cannot send the prescription to a pharmacy - even electronically.

In the same way, you cannot get a refill for these drugs. You have to ask your doctor for a new prescription every time you run out of your prescriptions. Some states have also put limits on the amount of schedule II drugs that you can fill at any given time - such that you cannot get a supply that lasts longer than 30 days.

Examples of these substances include:

  • Amobarbital
  • Amphetamine (Dexedrine and Adderall)
  • Codeine
  • Fentanyl (Duragesic, Sublimaze-)
  • Glutethimide
  • Hydrocodone
  • Hydromorphone (or Dilaudid)
  • Meperidine (Demerol)
  • Methadone (Dolophine)
  • Methamphetamine (Desoxyn)
  • Methylphenidate (Ritalin)
  • Morphine
  • Opium
  • Oxycodone (Percocet, OxyContin)
  • Pentobarbital

3. Schedule III

Drugs that are classified in schedule III come with a high risk for abuse - but this risk is much less than that of substances in schedules I and II. If you abuse them, however, you might end up struggling with low or moderate physical dependence but high mental dependence.

The refill restrictions put in place for drugs in Schedule III are similar to those in schedule IV. This means that you can get a refill (but a maximum of 5 refills) within a period lasting for 6 months.

Examples of these drugs include:

  • Anabolic steroids, including Depo-Testosterone
  • Benzphetamine (Didrex)
  • Buprenorphine (Suboxone).
  • Codeine (Tylenol with Codeine)
  • Ketamine
  • Phendimetrazine

4. Schedule IV

If a drug is classified in schedule IV, it means that it comes with a relatively low risk of substance abuse - especially in comparison to the drugs that are in schedule III.

You might be able to get a refill for schedule IV drugs as long as it has been authorized by your doctor. However, you may only get 5 refills within a 6-month period. After 6 months or 5 refills - whichever comes first - you would have to get a new prescription.

Examples of these drugs include:

  • Alprazolam (Xanax)
  • Carisoprodol (Soma)
  • Clonazepam (Klonopin)
  • Clorazepate (Tranxene)
  • Diazepam (Valium)
  • Lorazepam (Ativan)
  • Midazolam (Versed)
  • Temazepam (Restoril)
  • Triazolam (Halcion)

5. Schedule V

Drugs that are in schedule V have relatively low risks of abuse and addiction, especially in comparison to those that are classified into schedule IV. Most of them include preparations that have small quantities of specific narcotics. No special restrictions have been placed on getting a refill for drugs in schedule V.

Examples of schedule V drugs include:

  • Cough preparations (Robitussin AC- and Phenergan with Codeine-)
  • Ezogabine

Generally speaking, controlled substances can also refer to illicit substances that might have detrimental effects on your welfare, health, and wellness. State and federal governments regulate these substances heavily.

If you are caught in possession of some controlled substances, there is a high risk that you might be charged a heavy fine or imprisoned by law enforcement officials at the federal, state, or local level.

However, you also need to understand that there are some controlled substances that are not illicit. These drugs include prescription medications that doctors write out prescriptions for, and which you can buy from a dispensary or pharmacy. The drug schedules created by the federal government are effective at determining whether or not a drug is illicit or legal.

It is technically illegal to own or possess the drugs that are listed in all these schedules. However, if you have a valid and legal prescription for any of them, you might not be tried in a court of law.

That said, there are some penalties that would be enforced if you were found in possession of any controlled substances. The penalties will vary widely depending on the substances, the quantity you had, as well as the circumstances of the crime.

For instance, if you are apprehended with anything between 500 and 5000 grams of cocaine - which is in schedule II - you may be charged a fine (less than $5 million) and receive a prison sentence of between 5 and 40 years.

If you are in the same circumstances, but the crime also involved serious bodily injury or death, your punishment will increase to anywhere between 20 years of prison and life imprisonment with a fine that is less than $5 million. This penalty will also apply to almost every other drug and drug quantity. This is even though drugs are classified into different schedules.

Controlled Medical Substances

Although controlled substances refer to any addictive substances that are in the radar of the Drug Enforcement Administration, there are some of them that have medical uses that are accepted by the federal government. These drugs are known as medications.

There are two broad categories of medications - over the counter drugs and prescription medications. For over the counter drugs, you can just walk into any chemist or pharmacy and buy them.

If you are using a prescription drug, however, you would need a health care provider or doctor to write you a valid prescription to be able to buy it from a pharmacy. However, your doctor can also give you samples of these medications from their office.

Any medication that is sold over the counter has been tested and found to be appropriate and safe for use. This means that you can take it without any medical oversight or supervision.

The CDER - the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research - is the branch of the Food and Drug Administration responsible for the classification of over the counter drugs, generic drugs, and prescription drugs.

Prescription drugs are further broken down into non-controlled and controlled substances. Most of the drugs that you would take for a chronic condition or to treat an infection would typically be non-controlled. Examples include antibiotics, asthma inhalers, insulin, diabetes medications, cholesterol medications, and blood pressure drugs.

On the other hand, controlled substances include medications that could lead to the development of mental and physical dependence as we saw earlier. The government has put heavy restrictions on the dispensation, filling, and refilling of these medications. Further, the DEA heavily regulates these drugs based on their likelihood of leading to dependence and addiction.

Getting Help

If you have developed a substance use disorder after abusing any of the drugs classified as controlled substances, it is recommended that you check into an inpatient or an outpatient drug rehab and treatment center so that you can get the help that you need to overcome your addiction.











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