Schedules Of The Narcotics Drugs And Narcotics Laws

Last Updated: June 3, 2020

Authored by Nena Messina, Ph.D.

Narcotics are a large group of drugs with analgesic properties, some of which are legal, while others are illegal. Narcotics are regulated in order to reduce the prevalence of addiction, overdose, and death, which is why new substances are constantly added to the list of regulated chemicals. The regulation of these substances started with the Harrison act, which decreased the number of opium addicts in the U.S. This regulation is being made by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the Controlled Substances Act.

Narcotics Laws

The Harrison Narcotic Act played a chief role in regulating substances. Its primary purpose was to tax and regulate the distribution of various substances (like opium and coca), which were then legal for registered companies and professionals. The Harrison Narcotic tax act was also meant to battle the opium addiction epidemics, which was a big issue at the time. Finally, the Harrison Narcotic Act of 1914 laid the ground for future legislations, like the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.

Federal Bureau of Narcotics was an official agency that enforced drug-related acts, in 1930, and was a part of the Department of the Treasury. FBN enforced new responsibilities coming from the Harrison Act (stopped the smuggling of opium and heroin). It was succeeded by the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. The latter was an agency within the Department of Justice. Both played a significant role in enforcing federal narcotic laws, mostly by tracking down the overseas production and making local drug busts.

Narcotics Regulation In The U.S. Today

The DEA is the current narcotics police in the U.S. The Drug Enforcement Agency is an agency within the United States Department of Justice, and it combats the domestic distribution and trafficking of illicit drugs. The DEA cooperates with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The DEA narcotics regulations are brought with the help of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The two agencies add or remove substances from schedules. The initial list of controlled substances was put together by Congress.

Narcotics Regulation In The U.S. Today

International Regulation

The Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs deals with the problem of illegal substances on the international level, by stopping the entry of illegal drugs into the U.S. This Bureau is responsible for the control of international narcotics and law enforcement. The Bureau works in accordance with the International Narcotics Control Boards, which is a United Nations control organ. The Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act is crucial for suppressing international drug trafficking, as it allows the imposition of sanctions on foreign citizens who take part in such actions.

Schedules of Narcotics

Narcotics control act, or the Controlled Substances Act, determines the scheduled narcotics and lists all controlled substances and chemicals that are used for manufacturing controlled substances. This Act defines the difference between unlawful and lawful drug manufacture, distribution, and possession of these drugs’ felony. Subchapter I of this Act contains schedules I-V, while the subchapter II describes all the laws regarding the export and import of controlled substances. Both subchapters specify fines and prison terms in case of law violations.

Schedules are special sublists, organized with regards to 3 factors:

  • Abuse potential
  • Medical use
  • Potential for addiction; safety

While there is a list of exempt substances (like alcohol and tobacco), there are virtually no exempt narcotics.

Schedule 1

Schedule 1 narcotics are substances with the highest potential for abuse and addiction and are not accepted for medical use. These include:

  • Acetyl Fentanyl (and other fentanyl derivatives)
  • Etorphine (a powerful analgesic, 3,000 times stronger than morphine).
  • Heroin

schedule 1 nacrotics

Schedule 2

Schedule 2 narcotics also have a high potential for abuse and addiction, but their medical use is allowed. These are:

Schedule 3

Schedule 3 narcotics have medium potential for abuse and physical addiction, while the risk of mental addiction is high. These substances are used in medicine:

  • Buprenorphine (Subutex)
  • Dihydrocodeine
  • Paregoric (camphorated tincture of opium)

Schedule 4

Drugs from this Schedule list have a low potential for abuse, and may lead to moderate addiction symptoms:

Schedule 5

These drugs have the lowest potential for abuse, medical use is accepted, and there are only mild symptoms of addiction. Individuals can buy narcotics (like cough syrups) listed in schedule 5, without prescription:

  • Cough medicine containing a small amount of codeine (otherwise, codeine is in schedule 2)
  • Medicines with small amount of diphenoxylate (which is in schedule 2)
  • Antidiarrheals, like diphenoxylate, mixed with atropine

Law Violation

The severity of anti-drug measures depends on the drug’s schedule and the nature of the crime. Usually, the possession of a drug is the least punished crime, while the distribution, selling, and manufacture of that same drug lead to being arrested and long imprisonment.

Most of the substances enumerated in the aforementioned lists are extremely addictive. There are many ways to treat the addiction, such as psychotherapy and support groups and many others. In most cases, it is required to spend some time in a rehabilitation center to recover from drug addiction fully.

In order to avoid the development of an addiction, doctors can choose non-opiate narcotics or natural alternatives for pain management.

Page Sources

  1. Drugs Of Abuse. A DEA Resource Guide. U.S. Department of Justice. Drug Enforcement Administration. 2017.
  2. The Controlled Substances Act. United States 
Drug Enforcement Administration.

Published on: October 11th, 2019

Updated on: June 3rd, 2020

About Author

Nena Messina, Ph.D.

Nena Messina is a specialist in drug-related domestic violence. She devoted her life to the study of the connection between crime, mental health, and substance abuse. Apart from her work as management at addiction center, Nena regularly takes part in the educational program as a lecturer.


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