Understanding The Controlled Substances Act

The Controlled Substances Act (CSA) is a law that regulates how drugs may be used, produced, and sold in the United States. It applies to both legal and illegal substances.

Both the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are granted power to classify substances under the CSA.

The Controlled Substances Act outlines the drug scheduling system, which lays out 5 classes of drugs with different regulations for each class.

The CSA places allowances and restrictions on drugs with regards to:

  • Possession
  • Manufacturing
  • Importation
  • Use
  • Distribution

Alcohol and tobacco products are not regulated under the CSA.

Drug Scheduling

The DEA uses drug scheduling as a rating system to determine which drugs have a higher potential for abuse. The agency also uses scheduling to determine the charges brought upon those in possession of drugs.

Schedule I Controlled Substances

These substances have no defined medicinal purposes, have a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision, and have the highest potential for abuse.

Schedule I Drugs Include:

Schedule II Controlled Substances

Although Schedule II substances have a high potential for abuse, they have an accepted medical purpose in some circumstances. Most of these drugs have strict guidelines regarding their medicinal purposes.

Schedule II Drugs Include:

Schedule III Controlled Substances

Drugs under this schedule are those with a moderate to low abuse potential (lower than Schedule I and II), a currently accepted medical use, a low to moderate potential for physical or psychological dependence. Anabolic Steroids and testosterone are among the drugs that fall in this category. Codeine is one of the most commonly abused Schedule III drugs with addictive and intoxicating qualities. Other examples include Buprenorphine and Ketamine.

Schedule IV Controlled Substances

These drugs are considered by the DEA to have an accepted medical use and a lower potential of abuse compared to Schedule III substances.

Schedule IV Drugs Include:

Schedule V Controlled Substances

These substances have the lowest potential for abuse according to the DEA. Prescriptions to control conditions like irritable bowel syndrome and fibromyalgia are among those considered Schedule V. Robitussin AC, a cough suppressant with very low amounts of Codeine, is also a Schedule V substance.

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Proposed Changes To The CSA

Advocates of drug safety debate whether the CSA classifications actually prevent drug use. Opioid Painkillers and Marijuana are the most frequently discussed drugs in the CSA debate.

Rescheduling Painkillers

There are many people who advocate for either increasing or decreasing the schedule of Painkillers. There are groups that are concerned about the powerfully addictive nature of Painkillers and others concerned it may be too hard for people who need pain relief to get the drug.

Advocates of increasing the schedule of drugs like Hydrocodone often point to the epidemic of Painkiller addictions and the rise in ‘pill mills’ throughout the 2000s.

These advocates were successful in lobbying for Hydrocodone to move from a Schedule III to a Schedule II substance in 2014.

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Rescheduling Marijuana

There have been many attempts to remove Marijuana’s Schedule I status since the 1970s. Those advocating to reduce Marijuana’s schedule level say that Marijuana is not more dangerous than Schedule II drugs like Oxycodone. Additionally, Schedule I drugs are considered to have no medical purpose; Marijuana is used medicinally in some states.

Despite the debates, it is important to recognize the addictive quality of Marijuana.

Although it’s often touted as a ‘non-habit forming’ substance, Marijuana can take a psychological hold over some people, similar to how some people develop food or gambling addictions.

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The CSA And Addiction Treatment

Because the CSA designates some drugs as illegal, some people may not seek treatment for their addiction for fear of being arrested for possession. But having an addiction is not illegal. Getting treatment can help turn your life around.

If you have an addiction, there are people available to help you find a treatment center and discuss financial options. Call a treatment provider to get help.



Jeffrey Juergens

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  • Jeffrey Juergens earned his Bachelor’s and Juris Doctor from the University of Florida. Jeffrey’s desire to help others led him to focus on economic and social development and policy making. After graduation, he decided to pursue his passion of writing and editing. Jeffrey’s mission is to educate and inform the public on addiction issues and help those in need of treatment find the best option for them.

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Theresa Parisi

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  • Theresa Parisi received her bachelor’s degree in Addiction Science and Psychology from Minnesota State University in Mankato, Minnesota in 2010. She is currently working towards her master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling at Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, Florida. She is a Certified Addiction Professional (CAP), Certified Behavioral Health Case Manager (CBHCM), and International Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor (ICADC) by the Florida Certification Board. Theresa is passionate about recovery having gone through addiction herself.

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