The 5 Schedules of Controlled Substances

Prescription drug abuse is a serious issue that happens every day in America. Over 16 million Americans abuse prescription medications every year, and 12% struggle with addiction. These addictive medications are often referred to as controlled substances because of their potential for abuse, psychic or physiological dependence, liability, or risk to public health. In 1971, the Controlled Substance Act (CSA) was passed and classified Substances into five categories based on their medical usages and abuse potentials.

Schedule I:

This category has the highest risk of abuse and dependence. As a result, there is no currently accepted medical use for any drugs under this category. Schedule I drugs are the most addictive and include lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), methaqualone (Quaaludes), heroin, marijuana, and methylenedioxymethamphetamine (ecstasy).

Schedule II:

This category of medications has moderate-to-high abuse potential and can lead to severe psychological or physical dependence. Schedule II drugs include cocaine, methadone, methamphetamine, hydromorphone, oxycodone, fentanyl, Adderall, Ritalin, and combination drugs with under 15 mg of hydrocodone per dose unit.

Schedule III:

Drugs in this category have a moderate-to-low potential for dependence and abuse. Examples include Tylenol with codeine (less than 90 mg of codeine per dosage unit), testosterone, and ketamine.

Schedule IV:

This category of drugs has a low potential for drug abuse and a lower, but still possible, risk of dependence. Schedule IV medications can be prescribed for occasional or continual use and can include anxiolytics, pain meds, and sleep medications such as lorazepam, zolpidem, carisoprodol, diazepam, alprazolam, and tramadol.

Schedule V:

Schedule V drugs have the lowest potential of abuse among the Schedule medications; however, some can contain small amounts of certain narcotics. This category includes antitussive, analgesics, and antidiarrheal drugs. Examples of Schedule V drugs include pregabalin, Robitussin Ac, and Phenergan with codeine.

Under Title 21 Code of Federal Regulations, when filling or refilling prescriptions for Schedule III or IV drugs, these prescriptions must expire six months after the written date. In addition, no more than five refills are allowed for Schedule III or IV drugs before a new Rx is required. Schedule V drugs, however, can be refilled as authorized by the prescriber. For Schedule II prescriptions, refills are prohibited, so you’ll need a new prescription for each fill.

For more information on the DEA, controlled substances, and drug schedules, visit

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Dr. James Kim