Narcotic vs controlled substance

Nurses General Nursing


Hi everyone. I was just watching a lyrica commercial and it made a point to say that this medication is NOT A NARCOTIC but it is a controlled substance...ok, so what's the difference? I have to keep this drug in the double lock box at work and count it out with all the other narcs. Is there really any difference or is this just nice wording for advertising? I am curious to know if I missed something along the way. I know that this medication is a schedule V, the lowest class of controlled drugs if that makes any difference. Thank you!

blondy2061h, MSN, RN

1 Article; 4,094 Posts

Specializes in Oncology.

I distinctively remember being told in the NP program that I went through that narcotic is not a medical term. It's a legal/law enforcement term. Medications fall into drug categories, some of which are classically controlled substances, such as opiates and benzodiazepines. I'm sure what the commercial means is that it's not an opiate due to the chemical pathways it works on. It would be a controlled substance because of abuse potential. Which is kind of silly, since it's just fancy gabapentin, and that's not. Some of it varies by state.

MunoRN, RN

8,058 Posts

Specializes in Critical Care.

"Narcotic" is a poorly defined term that in general shouldn't be a term used by healthcare providers since it has too many meanings.

As just a general word definition, "narcotic" refers to any substance that has sedating or numbing effects. Originally, the legal definition of narcotics only included sedating and numbing drugs since it referred to derivatives of opium and coca. The current regulatory definition, the one manufacturers of Lyrica have to follow to advertise it as "non-narcotic", refers to schedule I and schedule II drugs. Lyrica is schedule V.

So according to the FDA and DEA, narcotics are scheduled drugs but not all scheduled drugs are narcotics. Of course now there are schedule I/II drugs ("narcotics") such as amphetamines that have neither sedating or numbing effects and there are also plenty of sedating medications that are not schedule I/II (ie Lyrica), so the original definition and the one most relevant to medical treatment has been completely lost, so it's probably better that we just avoid it.

Specializes in Critical Care, Education.

There is a lot of public confusion about medication terms.... that's why we use a much more specific Controlled Substance classification system.

Specializes in orthopedic/trauma, Informatics, diabetes.

Ritalin is a controlled substance and is certainly not a narcotic, but is has huge potential for abuse.

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