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Difference between Controlled and Non-Controlled Substances

by Libby Baney, Medications Expert
October 06, 2017

Question: What is the difference between controlled and non-controlled substances?

Answer: Patients should be aware that controlled substances are associated with greater risks, such as risk of addiction, than non-controlled substances.  In addition, controlled substances are subject to more restrictions and limitations than non-controlled substances.  However, non-controlled substances can also harms users and some require a prescription. 

Controlled substances are divided into five schedules. How a drug is classified depends on whether they have a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, their relative abuse potential, and likelihood of causing dependence when abused.  Schedule I drugs are not available to patients.  Schedule II drugs are available to patients but, in most circumstances, a prescription must be written and signed by the practitioner.  Prescriptions for schedule III-V controlled substances may be written, oral or transmitted by fax. Only licensed medical practitioners who are registered with the DEA are authorized to prescribe Schedules II-V to patients. The current list of controlled substances can be found in Title 21 Code of Federal Regulation Section 1308 (21 CFR §1308).

Libby Baney is Executive Director of the Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies or ASOP Global, an international non-profit organization dedicated to protecting the safety of consumers online. A lawyer and health advocate, she leads ASOP Global’s operations, shapes public policy and advocates for increased international attention to the issue of illegal online drug sellers in the U.S., European Union and Asia.

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