Federal Controlled Substances Act Schedules
The federal Controlled Substances Act restricts access to drugs and other substances that users may abuse, resulting in dangerous dependency. In its controversial war on drugs, Congress has criminalized unauthorized manufacture, distribution, delivery, and possession of dangerously addictive drugs. Similar state Controlled Substances Acts, including one in Texas, create the risk of facing state criminal charges in addition to federal charges. The federal Controlled Substances Act classifies drugs into Schedules I, II, III, IV, or V, depending on the drug's addictive and medicinal qualities. Generally, the more dangerously addictive the drug is, the higher the schedule number. See this Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) alphabetical list of scheduled controlled substances. The schedules are important not only because they tell you what drugs are illegal but also because they determine the charge and penalty levels.
Unlisted Controlled Substances
The DEA's list of federally controlled substances is incomplete. Be cautious of relying on lists. The lists that the federal government and other sources publish generally include only the parent chemical. Yet federal officials also have the authority to prosecute for possession or distribution of unlisted salts, isomers, and derivatives of listed controlled substances. Federal officials in the DEA and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also frequently change the list or add drugs on a temporary basis, as Section 811 of the Controlled Substances Act permits, to keep up with new drug products. Moreover, a drug need not even be on a federal schedule to result in a Controlled Substances Act charge. Under 21 USC §802(32)(A), the Act's reach extends to controlled substance analogues, meaning substances with substantially similar chemical structures or physiological effects. Schedules help distinguish legal from illegal drugs but beware of schedule changes and analogues.
Statutory Definition of Schedule II Drugs
Congress's straightforward definition for Schedule II drugs is basically that the drug has a high abuse potential that may lead to severe dependence but also has an accepted medical use. The Controlled Substances Act's Section §812(b)(2) authorizes federal DEA and FDA officials, working with the attorney general, to place a drug on Schedule II when:
(A) The drug or other substance has a high potential for abuse.
(B) The drug or other substance has a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States or a currently accepted medical use with severe restrictions.
(C) Abuse of the drug or other substances may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence.
Federal officials cannot add drugs to the schedules on a whim. Under the Act's Section §812(b), the attorney general must follow an administrative process making the above findings before including a drug on Schedule II.
The Difference Between Schedule I and Schedule II Drugs
The federal schedules generally make good sense, even if the placement of any particular drug on this schedule or that schedule can appear subjective. Take, for instance, the difference between a Schedule I drug and a Schedule II drug. Under the Controlled Substances Act's Section §812(b)(1), a Schedule I drug is, like a Schedule II drug, highly addictive. That part of the statutory definition is the same for both Schedule I and Schedule II. But while Schedule II drugs have an accepted medical use, Schedule I drugs do not. For example, physicians do not use the Schedule I drug heroin for any medical treatment. By contrast, physicians or other medical care providers may use the equally addictive but nonetheless therapeutic Schedule II drug oxycodone as a powerful painkiller. You can get a prescription for oxycodone, even though it's a Schedule II drug. You cannot get a prescription for the Schedule I drug heroin.
Best Known Schedule II Drugs
Schedule II drugs include some of the substances that the public would recognize are highly addictive but would also know are legal when prescribed. Schedule II drugs include:
● Cocaine is a central nervous system stimulant also known as coke, blow, or powder. Cocaine can produce a euphoric high and is highly addictive but has medicinal uses as an anesthetic. Users can sniff, smoke, or inject cocaine in its powder, resin, or dissolved forms. Cocaine's stimulant effect can produce cardiac arrest or stroke.
● Methadone is a synthetic opioid prescribed for severe pain and to treat heroin addictions but is itself addictive and dangerous when abused, leading to severe mental impairment or respiratory depression resulting in death. Methadone blocks the euphoric effects of heroin but can produce euphoric effects of its own, implicating its abuse.
● Morphine, known on the street as Miss Emma, Monkey, or White Stuff, is another opiate pain reliever prescribed, especially after major surgeries and for cancer pain. Abuse occurs due to its pleasurable effects and its accessibility in prescribed pill form. Morphine overdose can result in coma and depressed breathing resulting in death.
● Demerol, known as Dillies, D, or Dust, is a common painkiller that can produce unpleasant anxiety and nausea symptoms on withdrawal, resulting in frequent dependency. Medical care providers currently try to restrict its prescription to hospital use. Its depressant effect can cause coma and breathing cessation when users take large amounts.
● Adderall and Ritalin, prescribed for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and producing alertness and increased ability to focus, can leave a user foggy and sluggish in withdrawal, contributing to their addictive effect.
Schedule II and Fentanyl
The synthetic opioid fentanyl, prescribed as a painkiller under the names Actiq in lozenge form, Duragesic in patch form, and Sublimase injected in hospital use, is also a federal Schedule II drug. Fentanyl is fifty to one-hundred times more potent than other commonly abused drugs like morphine. Opioids like fentanyl are responsible for nearly three-quarters of the approximately 70,000 annual U.S. drug overdose deaths. One might thus expect federal law to treat fentanyl as a Schedule I drug, especially insofar as states like Texas tend to put fentanyl in their top penalty groups. But fentanyl remains a federal Schedule II drug. If you face drug crime charges based on fentanyl possession or delivery, the state charges may be more serious than the federal charges.
Schedule II Penalty Levels
The federal penalties for trafficking in a Schedule II drug like cocaine are a minimum of five years imprisonment up to forty years, plus a fine of up to $5 million. Trafficking a Schedule II drug has penalties like those for trafficking a Schedule I drug. Possession penalties for Schedule II drugs are like the penalties for possessing other scheduled drugs. Possession penalties range from up to one year or three years, and up to a $1,000 or $3,000 fine, depending on the specific drug and the offense number.
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