Classification BY schedule THE CoNTRoLLED substances act and listed chemicals

For the forensic chemist the legal categorization of a drug is nearly as important as the chemical and physiological one. If a drug is described as a "drug of abuse," this generally means that the drug or compounds related to it that have fallen subject to regulations and laws. In turn, this typically occurs because the drug or related compounds have potential to be abused and to cause harm.

Abused drugs tend to be those that produce significant psychological and physiological effects. The example of morphine is typical; it suppresses pain and in the process can produce a feeling of well-being or euphoria. In contrast, aspirin stops pain but is not associated with mood-altering side effects and so has a low potential for abuse. Abused drugs are usually addictive physiologically, psychologically, or both. Morphine falls into this category as well. Users take the drug initially for the pleasant psychological effects but can quickly become addicted. Users often develop tolerances for the abused drug, meaning that ever-increasing doses are needed to elicit the desired effect.

In the United States drugs are regulated under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), passed in 1970. The CSA divides drugs into "schedules" based on their medical uses and potential for abuse as shown in the table. The act specifies penalties for violations, ranging up to 20 years in prison and $1 million in fines for the first offense involving Schedule I substances down to a maximum of one year in prison and $100,000 in fines for a first offense involving a Schedule V substance.

The CSA took aim primarily at drugs, and lawmakers addressed the materials used to synthesize many of them. Drugs such as PCP, GHB, and methamphetamine are relatively simple to make, requiring basic chemistry skills. An effective tool to minimize illicit production is to limit access to the drug's precursors (chemical ingredients). Accordingly, the CSA has been modified over the years to include many of the key precursor chemicals needed for making methamphetamine and other clandestinely prepared drugs such as PCP. Rather than listing all its precursors as controlled substances, Congress passed the Chemical Diversion and Trafficking Act (CDTA) in 1988 and amended it in 1993. This created two lists of chemicals that are regulated principally to deter their diversion for clandestine drug synthesis.

controlled substances and the controlled substances act

Schedule

Medical use

Controls on prescriptions

Required security

Potential for abuse

Addiction potential

Examples

1

none accepted

not available by prescription; used only for research

vault or safe

highest

severe

LSD, heroin, MDMA (Ecstasy), marijuana, GHB

II

some accepted uses with restrictions

written prescription with no refills

vault or safe

severe

morphine and many related opiates, cocaine, amphetamine and methamphetamine, most barbiturates, oxycodone

III

accepted uses

written or oral (phone-in), limits on refills and time

secured area

moderate to low

ketamine, anabolic steroids, some codeine preparations

IV

accepted uses

written or oral (phone-in), limits on refills and time

secured area

limited

benzodiazepines such as Valium, mild sleep aids

V

accepted uses

over the counter or written or oral (phone-in), limits on refills and time

secured area

lowest

limited

selected preparations of codeine

Source: U.S. version.

Drug Enforcement Administration. URL: http://www.usdoj.gov/dea/index. Access Web site for most current

It is important to realize that drugs can be classified in different systems. Rohypnol, for example, is an abused drug of concern to forensic chemists. It is classified as a basic drug, a benzodiazepine, synthetic, a hypnotic/sedative, a predator drug, and a Schedule IV drug. Forensic chemists must be aware of all of these classifications as part of their analysis of drug evidence.

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