Prescription Drug Abuse
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Which Drugs Are Being Abused?

According to the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), prescription drugs are the most abused substances in the United States. Benzodiazepines and painkillers rank highest on the list.

  Most Abused Substances in the U.S.

  1. Alcohol (combined with cocaine, marijuana, or heroin)
  2. Cocaine
  3. Marijuana
  4. Heroin/morphine
  5. Alprazolam (Xanax)
  6. Hydrocodone (Vicodin, Lorcet, Lortab)
  7. Unspecified benzodiazepines
  8. Oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet, Percodan, Tylox)
  9. Methadone
  10. Clonazepam (Klonopin)
  11. Propoxyphene Darvocet N, Darvon )
  12. Amphetamine (Dexedrine)
  13. Lorazepam (Ativan)
  14. Carisoprodol (Soma)
  15. Diazepam (Valium)
  16. Methamphetamine (Desoxyn, speed)
  17. Trazodone (Desyrel)

From Drug Abuse Warning Network Emergency Room Data. Based on drug mentions during emergency room visits in 2005.

To learn more about specific drugs, visit the following resources:


Categories of Controlled Substances

In 1970, Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act to better regulate the manufacture, distribution, and dispensing of controlled substances. The act divides into five schedules those drugs known to have potential for physical or psychological harm, based on their potential for abuse, medical use, and safety under medial supervision.

Schedule I drugs, such as heroin, have a high potential for abuse, no accepted medical use, and are not available through legal means. Schedules II through V contain drugs with accepted medical uses but abuse potential. Schedule II pharmaceuticals are mostly likely to be abused. Schedule V drugs are the least likely to be abused.

The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) monitors the registration, record-keeping, and drug security of those handling and receiving controlled substances. Examples from the five categories of controlled substances are listed below.


Schedule I
These illegal drugs have no legitimate medical use.

  • Heroin
  • LSD
  • Marijuana
  • MDA
  • MDMA (Ecstasy)
  • Methaqualone (formerly Quaalude)
  • Mescaline
  • Peyote
  • Phencyclidine (PCP)
  • Psilocybin

Schedule II
High potential for abuse. Use may lead to severe physical or psychological dependence. Prescriptions must be written in ink, or typewritten and signed by the practitioner. Verbal prescriptions must be confirmed in writing within, 72 hours, and may be given only in a genuine emergency. No refills are permitted.

  • Alfentanil (Afenta)
  • Amobarbital (Amytal)
  • Amphetamine (Dexedrine, Adderall)
  • Cocaine
  • Codeine
  • Fentanyl (Sublimaze, Duragesic)
  • Glutethimide
  • Hydromorphone (Dilaudid)
  • Levomethadyl (ORLAAM)
  • Levorphanol (Levo-Dromoran)
  • Meperidine (Demerol)
  • Methadone (Dolophine)
  • Methamphetamine (Desoxyn)
  • Methylphenidate (Ritalin)
  • Morphine (MS Contin, Oramorph, Roxanol, Duramorph, others)
  • Opium
  • Oxycodone (OxyContin, Percodan, Percocet, Roxicodone, Tylox)
  • Oxymorphone (Numorphan)
  • Pentobarbital (Nembutal)
  • Phenmetrazine (Preludin)
  • Secobarbital (Seconal)
  • Sufentanil (Sufenta)

Schedule III
These drugs have potential for abuse. May lead to low-to-moderate physical dependence or high psychological dependence. Prescriptions may be oral or written. Up to five refills are permitted within six months.

  • Anabolic steroids (numerous products such as Anadrol-50, Deca-Durabolin, Halotestin, Oxandrin, Winstrol)
  • Benzphetamine (Didrex)
  • Butabarbital (Butisol)
  • Butalbital (Fiorinal, Fioricet)
  • Camphorated tincture of opium (Paregoric)
  • Codeine (low doses combined with non-narcotic medications such as Tylenol, Phenaphen, Aspirin, Empirin, Soma Compound)
  • Hydrocodone (with acetaminophen - Lorcet, Lortab, Vicodin; with Aspirin - Lortab ASA; with chlorpheniramine - Tussionex)
  • Marinol (Dronabinol)
  • Methyprylon (Noludar)
  • Nalorphine (Nalline)
  • Phendimetrazine (Plegine)
  • Testosterone

Schedule IV
Potential for abuse. Use may lead to limited physical or psychological dependence. Prescriptions may be oral or written. Up to five refills are permitted within six months.

  • Alprazolam (Xanax)
  • Butorphanol (Stadol)
  • Chloral Hydrate (Noctec)
  • Chlordiazepoxide (Librium, Libritabs)
  • Clorazepate (Tranxene)
  • Ethchlorvynol (Placidyl)
  • Clonazepam (KIonopin)
  • Diazepam (Valium)
  • Flurazepam (Dalmane)
  • Lorazepam (Ativan)
  • Mephobarbital (Mebaral)
  • Meprobamate (Equinil, Miltown)
  • Midazolam (Versed)
  • Oxazepam (Serax)
  • Pentazocine (Talwin)
  • Phentermine (Fastin)
  • Pemoline (Cylert)
  • Phenobarbital (Luminal)
  • Prazepam (Centrax)
  • Propoxyphene (Darvon, Darvocet)
  • Quazepam (Doral)
  • Temazepam (Restoril)
  • Triazolam. (Halcion)

Schedule V
Subject to state and local regulation. Abuse potential is low; addictive medication is often combined with nonaddicting medicines to reduce abuse potential. A prescription may not be required.

  • Buprenorphine (Buprenex, Temgesic)
  • Codeine (in low doses combined with non-narcotic medications such as Actifed, Novahistine DH, Terpin Hydrate, Ambenyl, Prometh, Pbenergan, Dihistine DH, Dimetane-DC, Robitussin A-C, Cheracol)
  • Diphenoxylate (Lomotil)

For more information on these drugs, visit the DEA web site, Drug Policy page, at


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