Prescription Drug Abuse in the U.S.
There is an ongoing prescription drug epidemic in the U.S. right now. The primary drugs of abuse are opioids, but other classes of drugs have been involved in the spiking overdose numbers and fatalities recorded each year. One such type of drugs are benzodiazepines. Benzodiazepines are intended to be short-term treatment options for anxiety and panic disorders. They do have therapeutic benefits for some patients, but they carry some risks as well.
Many prescription drugs are considered controlled substances as defined by the DEA in the U.S. The drug schedule is based on whether or not a substance has potential medical uses and how habit-forming it is considered to be. There are varying legal ramifications for being caught with certain drugs, including prescription drugs if you don’t have a legitimate prescription for its use.
- Schedule I: These substances have no currently accepted medical uses in the U.S. They are also considered unsafe based on available information and research. They are known to have a high potential for abuse. Heroin is one Schedule I drug, as are LSD and marijuana, although many states have legalized marijuana.
- Schedule II: Drugs grouped under the Schedule II category have a high potential for abuse. This includes physical dependence and psychological addiction. Opioid pain relievers like hydromorphone, morphine, fentanyl and methadone are all included on this list. Stimulants such as amphetamine and methamphetamine are also considered Schedule II. Despite the fact that these drugs have high abuse potential, most do have accepted medical uses.
- Schedule III: Schedule III controlled substances have a potential for abuse and addiction but at a lesser level than Schedule II substances. They may include certain narcotics such as buprenorphine as well products that have less than 90 mg of codeine per dosage. Non-narcotics that are Schedule III include ketamine and testosterone.
- Schedule IV: These substances have a low potential for abuse, at least relative to Schedule III. Anti-anxiety medicines are often included on this list as are many sleep aids.
- Schedule V: Finally, Schedule V drugs have a low potential for abuse, and this group includes cough medicines with a limited amount of codeine.
Understanding the controlled substances schedule is important from a legal standpoint and because it indicates how addictive a substance can be. If, for example, your doctor discusses prescribing you a Schedule II drug, you may want to research and determine what the risks are regarding addiction or physical dependence.
What people should realize is that the controlled substances scheduling list doesn’t indicate how dangerous a drug is relative to another. For example, heroin and marijuana are in the same category, but most would agree heroin is significantly more dangerous than marijuana. The drug schedule also doesn’t mean that people are punished in the same way for drugs that are in the same category. Someone who’s in possession of heroin is likely to receive a stricter punishment than someone with marijuana. The controlled substance schedule is more complex, and it looks at possible medical value and the addictive nature of drugs. This drug schedule also allows for more regulation of certain substances.
For most people, even when they take Xanax as prescribed, it is necessary to taper off when they stop using it. For some people who use benzodiazepines, particularly for an extended period, a medically supervised detox may be necessary. None of these factors are heavily considered in the current drug schedule. Again, as noted above, Xanax’s classification as a Schedule IV drug doesn’t address how dangerous it is. Benzos like Xanax are very often involved in visits to the emergency room and in overdose deaths related to prescription drugs. This can happen when they’re used on their own but is especially likely when they’re combined with alcohol or opioids.
Does this all mean that Xanax shouldn’t be used? Not necessarily, although it should only be used under the supervision of a physician and with a prescription. Xanax can help people, and as a Schedule IV drug the DEA doesn’t consider it highly habit-forming, but for many people, this isn’t the reality. It is important to discuss a full medical history including any personal or family history of substance abuse before taking Xanax.