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Heroin Drug Classification

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The practice of drug classification and scheduling began with the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), which was voted into federal law in 1971 in hopes of creating an effective system for controlling the availability of potentially dangerous substances by limiting access through regulation.

Heroin is classified as a Schedule I drug, indicating that it has no accepted medical use and carries a high risk of abuse and dependence. Schedule I drugs are the most restrictive category of controlled substances in the United States and include hallucinogenic substances, marijuana, opiates, stimulants, and depressants.

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How Are Drugs Classified?

The CSA divides drugs into five categories or “schedules.” When it was first enacted, drugs were evaluated by the risk associated with addiction and therapeutic value.

Controlled drugs considered to have almost no risk for addiction, abuse, or harm are not scheduled. Examples would be insulin, blood pressure, and cholesterol medicines.

You can find current drug schedules and classes for controlled substances on the Drug Enforcement Administration’s website.

Classes for Controlled Substances

From a legal standpoint, drugs are separated into three classes based on how dangerous they are and their impact on society.

Class A drugs: heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, and LSD.

Class B drugs: speed, cannabis, ketamine, mephedrone, and some amphetamines.

Class C drugs: anabolic steroids, GHB (gamma hydroxybutyrate), and some tranquilizers.

A third category, “Temporary Class Drug Banning Orders,” are for new psychoactive substances (NPS), sometimes known as “legal highs.” These substances are designed to mimic illicit drugs like cannabis, cocaine, ecstasy, and LSD. Manufacturers develop new chemicals to replace the ones banned, constantly changing their chemical structure to circumvent the law.

The ban allows for banning a new substance until it is analyzed to determine the potential risk to human health.

The medical world divides drugs into five schedules. Schedule I drugs are not used to treat patients. When prescribing Schedule II to V drugs, doctors must follow specific protocols to reduce the chances of addiction or overdose.

Schedule I

Schedule I  drugs currently have no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. These substances are considered the most dangerous class of controlled substances because they have a high potential for addiction and abuse. Possession and trafficking of these drugs can result in significant legal penalties due to their highly restricted status.

Schedule II

Drugs that fall under Schedule II have a high potential for abuse that could lead to severe psychological or physical dependence. Doctors may prescribe them in limited amounts. Schedule II drugs are subject to stricter requirements than other schedules when prescribing, dispensing, and managing them.

Substances that are classified as Schedule II are combination products with less than 15 milligrams of hydrocodone (Vicodin) per dose, cocaine, methamphetamine, methadone, hydromorphone (Dilaudid), meperidine (Demerol), oxycodone (OxyContin), fentanyl, Dexedrine, Adderall, and Ritalin.

Schedule III

A Schedule III drug is a substance that has a moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence. Schedule III drugs include products containing less than 90 milligrams of codeine per dose (such as Tylenol with Codeine), ketamine, anabolic steroids, and certain barbiturates. These substances have accepted medical uses and are regulated by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to ensure safe use.

In general, Schedule III drugs are subject to fewer restrictions than Schedules I and II when it comes to prescribing, dispensing, and managing them

Schedule IV

Schedule IV drugs are substances with a low potential for abuse and dependence. Examples of these drugs include Tramadol, Soma, Darvon, Darvocet, Xanax, Valium, Ambien, and Ativan. These substances may be prescribed to treat anxiety, insomnia, or muscle spasms.

Schedule V

A Schedule V drug is a substance that has a low potential for abuse and dependence. Certain cough medicines containing small amounts of codeine, certain anti-diarrheal medications, and Lyrica (pregabalin) fall under this schedule. These drugs have accepted medical uses and are available with a doctor’s prescription.

Schedule V drugs are subject to the fewest when it comes to prescribing, dispensing, and managing them.

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Heroin & Schedule I Drugs & Substances

Heroin classification is important in understanding the risks associated with its use and distribution. By classifying heroin as a Schedule I drug, the US government is taking steps to protect public health and safety by limiting heroin’s availability and reducing the chances of abuse.

Schedule I Substances Are Not Medically Accepted

Schedule I substances have no accepted medical uses. These substances have a high potential for abuse and dependence, which can result in severe physical and psychological harm that may require professional rehabilitation services, like those offered at Guardian Recovery, to overcome.

High Potential for Abuse & Addiction

Whether snorted, smoked, or injected, heroin enters the brain rapidly and binds to opioid receptors. It is especially potent with receptors involved in sensing pain and pleasure and controlling heart rate, sleeping, and breathing. This binding produces a flood of dopamine that creates an intense rush of pleasure followed by a feeling of relaxation.

Heroin is highly addictive, largely because it activates the powerful reward centers in your brain. When the effects subside, you are left with an intense craving to experience it again.

When a user withdraws from heroin, they will experience very unpleasant symptoms, including:

  • Anxiety.
  • Restlessness.
  • Insomnia.
  • Muscle aches.
  • Excessive sweating and chills.

The safest and most comfortable way to withdraw from heroin is in a medically-assisted detox program offered by an accredited rehabilitation center like Guardian Recovery. When you decide to seek help for your addiction, it’s important to find a center that is right for you.

Common Drugs That Are Also Classified as Schedule I

Heroin is not alone as a Schedule I drug. Several other substances fall into this most dangerous class of controlled substances because they have a high potential for addiction and abuse. They include:

  • Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD).
  • Marijuana (cannabis).
  • 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA or ecstasy).
  • Methaqualone.
  • Peyote.

Legal Consequences for Schedule I Substances

The possession, manufacturing, or distribution of Schedule I substances is illegal and can have serious legal consequences. Those caught possessing, selling, or manufacturing these substances will face both criminal and civil penalties. Simply being in the presence of a controlled substance can be considered an offense under certain circumstances.

Legal consequences for possessing or trafficking (selling) Schedule I substances are governed by state and federal laws.

Penalties for possession of a Schedule I drug are determined by each state and often vary based on the quantity of drugs found in a person’s possession and whether the person has been caught with drugs before. Penalties can include fines, jail time, probation, rehabilitation, or a combination.

Selling drugs is both a state and a federal crime, but most cases remain within the jurisdiction of the state. However, there are instances when federal authorities will get involved, such as:

  • Very large quantities of drugs
  • A federal officer made the arrest
  • Large amounts of drugs were moved from one state to another
  • Money laundering or large amounts of money were involved
  • A death took place outside of the state’s jurisdiction

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The federal government classifies heroin as a Schedule I drug because it has no accepted medical use and is highly addictive. Once this opioid enters the brain, it binds tightly to opioid receptors activating the pleasure and reward centers. “Coming down” from heroin is extraordinarily uncomfortable and creates intense cravings for more of the drug, making quitting extremely difficult.  No matter the substance, the best way to overcome addiction is with the help of experienced, trusted professionals like those at Guardian Recovery. We provide comprehensive treatment, including medically-assisted detox, therapy, specialty programs, and reintegration support. Our caring and skilled administrative, medical, and clinical teams will guide you through every step of your recovery process from the first time you call. We provide a complimentary assessment and a free insurance benefits check and help coordinate local travel to our facility. All you have to do is ask; we will take care of the rest. Contact us today.


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Disclaimer: Does not guarantee specific treatment outcomes, as individual results may vary. Our services are not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis; please consult a qualified healthcare provider for such matters.


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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave


Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

Written by:

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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