How Does Drug Scheduling Work?
June 6, 2022 | Drug Scheduling
The ongoing opiate epidemic has magnified the importance of discarding unused or expired drugs safely and legally, and the consequences for not doing so vary in their severity according to which “schedule” the DEA has placed a given drug. This blog entry provides a comprehensive introduction to the origins, logic, and content of DEA drug schedules Read more.
IN THIS BLOG:
- What is a drug schedule?
- How is it decided to place a drug on one schedule vs. another?
- What and how many drug schedules are there?
- What is a controlled substance?
- Are legal penalties more severe for abusing a Schedule 1 drug than for one on a “lower” schedule?
- What is the proper way to dispose of “schedule” drugs in institutional settings?
- Why is drug denaturing critical for controlled substances?
- Find out more about RX Destroyer
1. What is a drug schedule?
The federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA), which was passed in 1970, places each drug into a classification or “schedule” based not only on its medicinal value, but for its “potential for abuse.” The latter is why these schedules are created and maintained by the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and not—for example—the FDA.
2. How is it decided to place a drug on one schedule vs. another?
The DEA determines if a drug should be placed on a schedule by evaluating its potential for abuse relative to the drug’s medicinal value.
But how does the federal government define “drug abuse?” Per the federal code, it’s the use of a psychoactive substance (for other than medicinal purposes) that impairs the physical, mental, emotional, or social well-being of the user.
As to “medicinal value,” a drug must endure large-scale clinical trials to prove its efficacy and be approved by the FDA for its defined purpose.
3. What and how many drug schedules are there?
There are five schedules of drugs, substances, or chemicals, across which there are descending degrees of restriction on research, supply, and access. Schedule 1 and Schedule 2 are the strictest, and Schedule 5 the least so. Per the DEA:
- Schedule 1. Having a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use (E.g. heroin, LSD, marijuana, ecstasy, meth, peyote)
- Schedule 2. Having analgesic or other medicinal value, but a high potential for severe physical or psychological dependence (E.g. cocaine, methadone, Dilaudid, Demerol, oxycodone, Dexedrine, Ritalin)
- Schedule 3. Having analgesic or other medicinal value, with a moderate-to-low potential for physical or psychological dependence (E.g. Tylenol with codeine , ketamine, anabolic steroids)
- Schedule 4. Having analgesic or other medicinal value, with a low potential for abuse and low risk of dependence (E.g. Xanax, Soma, Darvon, Darvocet, Valium, Ativan, Talwin, Ambien, Tramadol)
- Schedule 5. Used for antidiarrheal, cough-suppressant, and analgesic purposes, these are preparations that contain limited quantities of certain narcotics (E.g. Robitussin AC, Lomotil, Motofen, Lyrica, Parepectolin)
4. What is a controlled substance?
A controlled substance is one for which availability is substantially forbidden or restricted by government because it might be abused or cause addiction. An ordinary person caught in possession of a controlled substance can be arrested, charged, fined, and/or jailed. “Control” refers to how the substance is made, used, handled, stored, and distributed. Examples are opioids, stimulants, depressants, hallucinogens, and anabolic steroids.
5. Are legal penalties more severe for abusing a Schedule 1 drug than for one on a “lower” schedule?
Yes. Legal penalties are affected by drug scheduling. Higherranked schedules entail more serious punishments than lower ones. Also, something not listed as a controlled substance might nonetheless be treated as a Schedule I drug for criminal prosecution if it’s an “analog,” meaning it’s chemically similar to a Schedule 1 or Schedule 2 substance—or was represented as being so.
6. What is the proper way to dispose of “schedule” drugs in institutional settings?
Institutional disposal of expired and unused drugs requires a comprehensive strategy that includes products, training, and ongoing consultation to ensure DEA compliance to mitigate the legal and financial risks associated with managing unwanted controlled substances.
Such a strategy must include:
- The systemic use of denaturing products and anerobic-digesting formulations to neutralize medications to meet DEA regulations for disposal
- Containers that are specifically engineered to secure unwanted drugs—both pills and liquids
Neither should controlled substances be poured down a drain. Municipal treatment systems aren’t equipped to remove them, so drugs that are “sewered” can find their way into the groundwater, fouling the drinking supply; and/or leaching into the soil, contaminating it.
7. Why is drug denaturing critical for controlled substances?
Denaturing uses heat, acid, alkali, or ultraviolet radiation to modify the molecular structure of a drug so that it no longer has the characteristics that make it dangerous per the DEA. In a sense, the drug is stripped of its “nature,” and now can be disposed of as a non-hazardous waste. Also, denaturing prevents the drug from being retrieved, recovered, or reused.
On the practical side, schedule drugs must be identified and segregated for a waste hauler to accept them; and the hauler needs to be properly licensed to do so. Few care to be, as the risks and requirements are formidable. As a result, the most expeditious way to dispose of controlled substances is to “denature” them in advance.
8. Find out more about RX Destroyer
RX Destroyer™ is the premier source of drug denaturing and disposal products for legally and safely disposing of pharmaceutical waste.
We serve medical clinics, pharmacies, dental practices, veterinarian offices, government institutions, among other industries as well as individual households. In sum, any enterprise or individual that must manage pharmaceutical waste.
We specialize in products and solutions that render controlled substances chemically inert and effectively “non-retrievable,” so as to thwart drug diversion and lessen the pollution attributable to pharmaceutical waste finding its way into the environment.
Our team is dedicated to providing the news and knowledge our partners need to remain abreast of the large and evolving body of environmental law that informs pharmaceutical waste management.
For more information about RX Destroyer products and services, email us or call 262.363.7004