How Drugs Are Classified

A controlled substance is any drug that is subject to legal regulation. Different controlled substances have varying levels of propensity for addiction and abuse. In addition, some drugs are used for medical reasons, while other drugs have no accepted medical use. To make it easier to determine the level of threat a particular drug proposes to users, drugs are classified into one of several categories. Medical, legal, and academic professionals use these classifications to make decisions with regard to any specific drug.

A drug that qualifies as a controlled substance is classified into one of five "schedules," or groups. The classification of each drug is primarily based on its potential for addiction and abuse, the degree of dependence the drug can elicit, and whether or not the drug has an acceptable medicinal purpose. Each drug is also classified as being either narcotic or non-narcotic in nature. A drug's classification determines how it will be prescribed to patients, as well as how it will be used for research purposes.

A Schedule I drug is a substance with a high potential for abuse that has no acceptable medical use currently approved in the United States. There are also no acceptable safety regulations for Schedule I drugs. A Schedule II drug is a substance that has a high potential for abuse or addiction, but that also has an accepted medical treatment purpose approved in the United States. Drugs may also fall under this category if they have an accepted use that is severely restricted by law. Abuse of a Schedule II drug may lead to severe physical or psychological dependence for the user.

A Schedule III drug is a substance that has a potential for addiction or abuse, but the potential isn't as severe as that of a Schedule I or Schedule II drug. Schedule III drugs typically have an accepted medical use that is not severely restricted. Abuse of a Schedule III substance may lead to a high psychological dependence or a low to moderate physical dependence. A Schedule IV drug is a substance that has a potential for addiction or abuse that is lower than that of a Schedule III, Schedule II, or Schedule I substance. Schedule IV substances have an acceptable medical use for treatment in the United States that is not heavily regulated. Abuse of a Schedule IV substance can lead to a limited psychological dependence or physical dependence that is less severe than that of a Schedule III drug.

A Schedule V substance is a drug with a lower potential for addiction or abuse than substances classified in Schedule IV. Schedule V drugs are accepted for use in medical treatment in the United States. Abuse of a Schedule V substance can lead to a psychological dependence or physical dependence that is less severe than that of a Schedule IV substance. Schedule V drugs are the least regulated of all controlled substances.

A drug is classified as a narcotic if it is a psychoactive compound that possesses sleep-inducing qualities. A psychoactive drug that doesn't induce sleep is a non-narcotic substance. The most common narcotics in the United States are morphine, heroin, and hydrocodone. When used in legal settings, the term "narcotic" sometimes refers to any drug prohibited by law.

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