Federal Schedules as a Weapon in the War on Drugs
The public is well aware of Congress's controversial war on drugs and its vast increase in U.S. incarceration rates to among the world's highest. President Richard Nixon signed the federal Controlled Substances Act in 1970 in the first major wave of federal drug enforcement efforts. The Act gave the DEA and FDA broad authority to add drugs to the Act's five schedules for controlled substances. The Act also criminalized the manufacture, distribution, delivery, and possession of substances on the federal schedules. Texas and other states have adopted similar Controlled Substances Acts to support similar state drug-crime enforcement initiatives. Anyone committing a drug crime could face both federal and state charges under similar drug schedules. Drug schedules are a principal weapon in the controversial war on drugs.
Where Schedule IV Fits
The federal Schedule IV is near the bottom of the five federal schedules. The Controlled Substances Act's Section 812 creates Schedules I, II, III, IV, and V. The DEA and FDA classify drugs into those schedules based on each drug's likelihood to create abusive dependency, the danger of that dependency, and the medically accepted uses for the drug. Schedule I drugs have no medical use but are highly addictive and dangerous. Schedule II drugs have a medical use but are still highly addictive and dangerous. Schedule III drugs have a medical use but are only moderately addictive. Schedule IV drugs have a medical use and low addictive properties. The point of the schedules is to assign relative penalties. Congress especially wanted to discourage trafficking in Schedule I drugs while still assigning significant penalties to trafficking in drugs on lower schedules like Schedule IV.
Drugs Not Appearing on Lists of the Federal Schedules
Not all addictive drugs appear on the federal schedules. But just because a drug doesn't appear on a list of the federal schedules doesn't mean a person can securely manufacture, distribute, or possess the drug. If a drug or chemical component fosters addiction while providing mood-altering properties like the scheduled drugs, then the chances are good that federal officials may treat it like a scheduled drug. The schedules are, in other words, incomplete. They omit drug derivatives, salts, isomers, and ethers that federal officials can lawfully treat as a controlled substance. The DEA and FDA are also constantly adding to the schedules on a temporary basis as Section 811 of the Controlled Substances Act allows. Federal prosecutors will, under the Act's Section 802(32)(A), also charge drug crimes for trafficking in controlled substance analogues that are similar to listed drugs. In short, don't rely entirely on the schedules.
The Federal Definition of Schedule IV Drugs
Section §812(b)(4) of the federal Controlled Substances Act defines a Schedule IV drug as one with an accepted medical use but with a low risk of limited addiction. With DEA and FDA advocacy and evidence, the attorney general must follow the Act's statutorily established administrative procedure to make these three findings placing a drug on Schedule IV:
(A) The drug or other substance has a low potential for abuse relative to the drugs or other substances in schedule III.
(B) The drug or other substance has a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.
(C) Abuse of the drug or other substance may lead to limited physical dependence or psychological dependence relative to the drugs or other substances in schedule III.
Schedule IV in the Context of Other Schedules
Schedule IV drugs have an accepted medical use, just like drugs on Schedules II, III, and V. Only Schedule I drugs have no medical use. But Schedule IV drugs have only a low potential for abuse, rather than the high abuse potential of Schedule I and II drugs or the moderate abuse potential for Schedule III drugs. Schedule IV drugs also lead to only limited addiction or dependence, rather than the severe dependence of Schedule I and II drugs or the moderate dependence of Schedule III drugs. Section §812(b) of the federal Controlled Substances Act distinguishes Schedule V from Schedule IV simply by providing that Schedule V drugs have lower abuse potential and lower dependency risk.
Well Known Schedule IV Drugs
Schedule IV drugs include prescription drugs that the public would generally recognize not only as legal when prescribed but also as nearly harmless if still presenting some abuse and dependency risk. Well-known Schedule IV drugs include:
- Ambien, a sedative typically prescribed as a sleep aid and that slows the brain's neurotransmitters by activating a brain compound. Drug companies made Ambien to replace the more-addictive Xanax. Ambien's relatively small abuse potential lies in user capacity to develop tolerance in as short as two weeks and to desire Ambien's effects enough to take more than the prescribed doses at greater than reasonable cost.
- Darvocet, a mild to moderate painkiller in the opioid family with the same active ingredient as Tylenol. Darvocet pills, no longer prescribed but still available on the black market, go by street names Pinks, Footballs, 65s, and Ns. The FDA curtailed Darvocet prescriptions following deaths linked to the use of the drug. Crushing and snorting the pills counteracts the product's time-release design, providing a euphoric rush for some abusers.
- Tramadol, a moderate painkiller often prescribed following surgery or for fibromyalgia sufferers. Tramadol, carrying the street names Trammies, Chill Pills, and Ultras, can produce relaxed and happy effects. Tolerance built over prolonged use can foster abuse in excessive doses and dependence that can produce side effects, including seizures.
Penalty Levels for Schedule IV Drugs
Federal penalty levels for selling, delivering, or intending to sell or deliver a Schedule IV drug are up to three years of imprisonment and up to a $10,000 fine. Trafficking in a Schedule IV drug can bring up to five years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine. Possession penalties for Schedule IV 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 number of offenses.
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