Ask an Expert A Quick Guide to Controlled Substances
This post is part of our “Ask an Expert” blog series. In this post, Ken Majkowski, Pharm.D and Chief Pharmacy Officer at FamilyWize, addresses a common question consumers have when it comes to prescription drugs. Ken brings more than 40 years of healthcare experience to the FamilyWize team, including 14 years of clinical pharmacy experience in retail, hospital and home care. Read his full bio, here. Most of us have a very general understanding that a controlled substance is a drug or chemical that is restricted by the federal government because it can be physically or psychologically addictive, possesses psychoactive properties, or is illegal to sell or distribute for various reasons.
From time to time, we receive questions from families or individuals looking for more information about controlled substances and how they relate to common prescriptions.
Below, we have pulled together a brief summary of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) to help address some of these questions. As always, please speak with your doctor and pharmacist for additional information.
What is a Controlled Substance?
Controlled substances are chemicals that are regulated by the federal government, including both illegal drugs and legal medications.
The CSA was signed into law in 1970 as a way to curb drug dealing, trafficking, and abuse. It specifically names:
• Which drugs are controlled substances
• When it is illegal to make, sell or have controlled substances
• The punishments for breaking these laws
The United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is tasked with enforcing the CSA.
Controlled substances are broken down into five different groups, called schedules, based on how physically or psychologically addictive they are, how likely they are to be abused, and how legal controlled substances must be prescribed and dispensed for appropriate medical use. Each group is controlled by a different set of regulations.
What Do Patients Need to Know about Controlled Substances?
First, controlled substances are more commonly used than you might think. Lyrica, Codeine, Ambien, Valium, Adderall, anabolic steroids, and all narcotic painkillers are examples of drugs identified as controlled substances.
Second, your doctor and your pharmacist have to follow strict protocols when prescribing and dispensing these drugs – including how the prescription must be sent to the pharmacy and whether or not and how often they can be refilled without a new prescription. These protocols are monitored by the DEA and professionals who fail to follow them are breaking federal law.
If you understand the restrictions doctors and pharmacists must follow related to controlled substances, you can better plan for it if, or when, you need a new prescription or refill.
We all benefit from the careful use and monitoring of controlled substances. For additional information, please see the DEA’s Controlled Substances website.
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