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What are scheduled substances?

While drug charges are often related to illicit substances such as marijuana or cocaine, individuals can also face drug crime allegations related to prescription drugs. Health care providers, patients and others have to be careful when handling, prescribing or using scheduled substances, as there are strict rules regarding their prescription and use.

Many prescription medications are classified into five levels of controlled substances by the federal government. The highest level of control is for Schedule I substances -- those deemed to have no medical use in the country and which have a high abuse potential. Some examples include heroin or meth. These drugs are not legal, even in a medical setting, and anyone holding or using them could face charges.

Schedule II drugs are those with a high abuse potential that do have a medical use. Access to these drugs is usually restricted, even in a medical setting. Examples include morphine, methadone and even cocaine. Use of such drugs outside of specific medical situations is likely illegal, and even doctors and nurses that use or distribute these drugs outside of strict parameters can face charges.

Schedule III, IV and V drugs follow a step down pattern. All have recognized medical uses, and each level is less controlled than the one above it. Each level also has a reduced chance of abuse or addiction associated with the drugs. Schedule III drugs include codeine and some steroids; Schedule IV drugs include Xanax and Valium. Certain cough medicines are classified as Schedule V.

Because slim lines can exist between legal use of scheduled substances and illegal use or distribution, it pays to understand the law. When faced with allegations of illegal behavior, a strong defense can help ensure the most positive outcome possible.

Source: New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services, "Controlled Substances," accessed May. 14, 2015

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