Opioids are a complex class of drugs. Within this larger classification of “opioids,” there are other subgroups that can help you understand the answer to the question of “Are opiates schedule I?” One group of opioids called “opiates” are classified as being derived from natural opium, and this group includes morphine. The second group has some partially synthetic morphine derivatives, and this includes hydrocodone and oxycodone. There’s a third group of all synthetic compounds including methadonefentanyl and codeine.

Some opiates, like morphine, are technically legal drugs, and they are available by prescription from a doctor. Prescription opiates are used as painkillers, and they’re intended for pain ranging from moderate to severe. Also included in the opiate drug class is heroin.

All of these drugs have some things in common, which is why they’re broadly classified in many of the same ways. These drugs work as depressants on the central nervous system.

The Controlled Substances Act

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is part of the U.S. Federal government, and they are the group responsible for working to keep illegal drug use and distribution down. The Controlled Substances Act is a broad statute that creates the basis for U.S. drug policy.

Under this legislation, there are five Schedules of drugs, which are essentially classifications.

It’s the responsibility of not only the DEA, but also the Food and Drug Administration to decide how substances are classified. In some cases, Congress may also make changes to the scheduling of substances. States also have the power to define which substances are classified as controlled substances.

The decision as to how drugs and substances are classified is based on how high the potential for abuse is and whether or not there are currently medical uses for the drugs in the United States.

Which Opiates Are Schedule I?

Schedule I drugs are found to have a high potential for abuse and they have no accepted medical use or treatment applications in the United States. These drugs are also shown to have a lack of safety for their use even under medical supervision.

There is no possibility of prescriptions to be written for Schedule I drugs. Schedule I drugs also carry high penalties under the law for trafficking. For example, first-time, non-violent offenders who are convicted of trafficking Schedule I drugs can get de facto life sentences if they’re prosecuted for multiple sales of the substance in a single court proceeding.

Opiates that are Schedule I include heroin. Heroin is used in some European countries as a pain reliever for patients with terminal cancer with morphine being the first option, but this isn’t the case in the United States.

Schedule II Opiates

Also relevant to the discussion of whether or not opiates are Schedule I is the list of Schedule II controlled substances. These drugs are determined to have a high potential for abuse, but they have a current medical use for treatment in the U.S. with restrictions. These drugs are also known to have the potential to lead to psychological or physical dependence. Schedule II drugs can’t be dispensed without the written prescription of a practitioner, and there are many restrictions on how prescriptions must be written and dispensed.

Opiates that are schedule II vary significantly regarding potency, and refills aren’t allowed. The only opiate currently classified as Schedule II is morphine.

In some cases, drugs that have small amounts of codeine, such as cough suppressants are classified all the way down the list as a Schedule V drug, which means they have a low potential for abuse and they have currently accepted medical uses.

Megan Hull
Editor – Megan Hull
Megan Hull is a content specialist who edits, writes and ideates content to help people find recovery. Read more
Jessica Pyhtila
Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Jessica Pyhtila, PharmD
Dr. Jessica Pyhtila is a Clinical Pharmacy Specialist based in Baltimore, Maryland with practice sites in inpatient palliative care and outpatient primary care at the Department of Veteran Affairs. Read more
Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.