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Pain Drugs - Schedules of Controlled Substances

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Updated October 09, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

In 1970, the United States Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) which set the stage for the war against illegal drugs, put the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in charge of enforcing the new laws, and set forth exactly what drugs it planned to begin controlling, divided into five categories, called schedules.

The schedules help determine both usage (whether or not they may be prescribed at all) and what kinds of controls are needed for each.

(Please note: there is another list of five descriptors for drugs called 'classes' which include words that describe their effect on the human body. The CSA schedules are not the same as classes.)

Here are the five schedules of controlled substances:

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), in particular for medicinal 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, methodone, 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.

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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