What is Drug Scheduling?

The government controls access to substances that are dangerous or have a high potential for abuse. The Drug Enforcement Administration¬†organizes these substances into categories¬†based on how potentially dangerous they are versus how useful they can be for medical treatment. “Schedules” is the name for the different categories.

There are five different drug schedules, with a Roman numeral denoting each. There are different levels of control for each schedule, and every substance that is part of the same schedule has the same controls on it. Schedule I contains substances with no accepted medical uses under federal law and has the strictest controls. The controls become gradually become less strict for substances on Schedules II, III, IV and V, which contain substances with accepted medical uses, though each still requires a prescription to obtain.

What factors determine a drug’s schedule?

When the DEA decides whether to schedule a drug and what controls it should have on it, it takes several factors into consideration. It examines scientific evidence of the substance’s pharmacological effect and the state of the current scientific knowledge about it. It considers the drug’s potential for abuse and whether physiological or psychological dependence could be a liability. It considers whether there is a pattern of abuse of the substance in the past and whether it is a precursor of another controlled substance.

Is it possible to change a drug’s schedule?

It is possible to add new substances to a schedule, change a drug to another schedule or remove a substance from drug schedules. The DEA and Department of Health and Human Services are federal agencies with the authority to initiate these proceedings. Other interested parties, such as individual citizens, medical societies or drug manufacturers, may petition for a substance to change to a different schedule or for its complete removal from control.

The DEA takes the same factors into consideration when deciding whether to remove a drug from the schedule or transfer it to another schedule that they use when deciding whether to control a substance in the first place.

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