What is a Controlled Prescription Medication vs. a Non-Controlled Prescription Medication?

Over the counter medications do not need a prescription.   They are usually safe to purchase and use without your doctor’s advice and can be purchased anywhere from a drug store to a grocery store.  While these medications are easy to access it does not mean they are without potential risk. You should always tell your doctor and pharmacist about any over the counter medications you are taking, especially if you are already taking a prescription medication.  Certain over the counter medications may have adverse side effects, such as causing elevated blood pressure or blood sugar. 

Non-controlled prescription medications

Prescription medications that are classified as non-controlled include most medications you have probably heard of such as diabetes medications, blood pressure medications, high cholesterol medications, antibiotics, thyroid medications, heart medications, and asthma inhalers, to name a few.

Controlled prescription medications

Controlled prescription medications are medications that can create mental and physical addiction or dependency.  There are strict regulations on how they can be filled and how many refills are allowed.  The DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) sets the rules, regulations, and classifications for these medications.

Examples of controlled prescription medications include sleeping pills, tranquilizers and opioids.  These medications are sometimes abused and become both physically and psychologically addictive. One group of controlled prescription medications are the   benzodiazepines, which include medications such as diazepam (Valium), alprazolam (Xanax), clonazepam (Klonopin) and lorazepam (Ativan).   Many ADHD medications, such as, Adderall are also considered controlled medications.

Controlled prescription medications are broken down into four Schedules.

Schedule 1 Drugs.  These are drugs that have no medical use, have a high probability of abuse, cannot be purchased with a prescription, and are illegal.  An example would be cocaine or heroin.

Schedule 2 Drugs.  These are drugs that have a high possibility of abuse and have very special restrictions on filling and refilling.  The prescription must be signed in person by your doctor, no refills are allowed, and there are usually restrictions on the amount of pills you can get at any time, depending on the state you live in.  Vicoden and Adderall are examples of Schedule 2 drugs.

Schedule 3 Drugs. These are drugs that, while they may have a lower potential for abuse, still carry a potential for some physical and psychological dependence.  There are restrictions on the number of times you can have this prescription refilled, usually only up to five times within a six month period.  An example of a Schedule 3 Drug is Tylenol with codeine.

Schedule 4 Drugs.  These are drugs that have a low potential for addiction or abuse, but still have a restriction on the number of refills you are allowed, usually up to five times within a six month period.  At the end of this prescription period the patient must obtain a new prescription.  Examples of Schedule 4 drugs include Xanax and Klonopin.

Schedule 5 Drugs.  These drugs do not have special restrictions and have a very low potential for abuse.  These usually contain a very limited amount of any narcotic.  As for refills, there are no special restrictions.  Examples of Schedule 5 drugs include cough medicines with codeine.

Note: Canada Online Health will not fill prescriptions for controlled medications.

Was this article helpful? Other articles you may find helpful include:

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What is the Difference Between a Generic Drug and a Brand-Name Drug?

Ten Important Questions to Ask Your Pharmacist

If you have questions about your prescription medications or any other medication, please contact our team at Canada Online Health by calling toll free 1-800-399-DRUG (3784). One of our patient representatives will be happy to assist you or transfer you to a licensed Canadian pharmacist for a free consultation.

This article contains medical information provided to help you better understand this particular medical condition or process, and may contain information about medication often used as part of a treatment plan prescribed by a doctor.  It is not intended to be used as either a diagnosis or recommendation for treatment of your particular medical situation.  If you are unwell, concerned about your physical or mental state, or are experiencing symptoms you should speak with your doctor or primary health care provider. If you are in medical distress please contact emergency services (such as 911).

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