Which Opiates Are Listed as Controlled Substances?

The Controlled Substances Act was passed in 1970 and designed to regulate the importation, manufacture, distribution, and possession of substances that were designated as potential substances of abuse. The act basically assigned the duties of identifying controlled substances to the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

How Are Drugs Classified?

The law establishes five schedules of controlled substances ranging from Schedule I to V, depending on the utility of the substance to be used as a medicinal product and its potential for abuse and the development of physical dependence; the law does not include wine, beer, malt liquor, liquor, or tobacco products.  All controlled substances require special permissions to obtain legally. In most cases, this special permission is a written prescription from a physician for substances in the II through V classifications.

Those substances classified in the Schedule I category are deemed to have no known medicinal purposes in the United States and can only be acquired with special permissions from the government. These substances are typically used in research or are well-known illicit drugs. The best-known opiate substance in the Schedule I category is heroin.

Schedules II through V can legally be prescribed by a physician and are subject to various levels of control by the government. A substance categorized higher up in the hierarchy (e.g., Schedule II) is considered to be potentially more dangerous and addictive than those categorized at the lower levels.

Opiate Classifications

girl cocaineOpiate drugs represent a large category of substances that are either derived from opium found in the Asian poppy plant or synthetic substances that are developed from opium or analogs of substances in opium. These substances have very powerful effects on an individual’s perception of pain and typically significantly reduce a person’s subjective experience of pain. Thus, many of these substances have significant medicinal uses; other medicinal uses for opiates include their ability to suppress coughing, diarrhea, and muscle rigidity, and in the treatment of withdrawal symptoms for individuals who have developed physical dependence on opiates or other drugs).

Despite some of the misinformation on the Internet, all opiate drugs (both those used medicinally and opiate drugs that are not used medicinally) are classified as controlled substances unless a specific formulation of an opiate substance is in development and has not yet been registered with the government, or it is manufactured illegally and has a different chemical makeup that distinguishes it as a completely different opiate from the recognized opiate drugs.

In some cases, the same opiate drug may be classified in different Schedules depending on the concentration of the drug in a specific substance (e.g., codeine). In general, opiate drugs are classified in Schedules I through IV. A brief listing of opiates classified in the Schedules follows:

  • Schedule I: heroin
  • Schedule II: Dilaudid (hydromorphone), Demerol (meperidine), Dolophine (methadone), Duragesic or Sublimaze (fentanyl), morphine, opium, OxyContin and Percocet (oxycodone), Vicodin and other medications with hydrocodone (These were reclassified in 2014 in the Schedule II category regardless of the amount of hydrocodone they contain.)
  • Schedule III: buprenorphine products, such as Buprenex, Suboxone, Subutex, and Temgesic
  • Schedule IV: tramadol
  • Schedule V: some preparations with codeine, such as Robitussin AC

It should be noted that codeine is one of the opiates that can be found at several levels of classification of controlled substances, depending on its chemical form and the amount of codeine in the particular substance. For instance:

  • The metabolite of codeine, codeine-N-oxide, is classified as a Schedule I controlled substance.
  • In general, codeine is classified as a Schedule II controlled substance (typically applied to substances that have over 90 mg of codeine in them).
  • Products containing less than 90 mg of codeine are generally classified as Schedule III controlled substances.
  • Some products with very low concentrations of codeine, such as Robitussin-AC, and are classified as Schedule V controlled substances.
Thus, despite some information presented online, codeine is a controlled substance and cannot be legally obtained without a prescription from a physician. Because controlled substances are continually reviewed and reclassified, these designations are always subject to change. However, opiate substances are all classified as controlled substances in the current scheme used by the federal government, and the majority of them are classified as Schedule II controlled substances due to their relatively high potential for abuse and the development of physical dependence.  A number of naturally forming products that are reputed to have opiate-like effects may not be formally classified by the DEA.
Despite this classification system, the misuse and abuse of prescription medications remains a significant problem in the United States. The National Institute on Drug Abuse continues to report that emergency room visits associated with abuse of prescription medications, such as opiate drugs, have increased over the past 15 years, and the number of unintentional deaths by overdose on prescription opiate drugs has outnumbered deaths associated with overdose of illicit drugs like heroin and cocaine since 2002.
Last updated on November 14, 20182018-11-14T17:12:43
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