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Classification of Narcotic Drugs

The term “narcotic” was derived from the Greek word fro stupor or a substance that induces sleepiness. Today the term is used in a number of ways. Whereas some people define narcotics as substances that bind at opiate receptors others refer narcotic as any illicit substance.

Though there may be no consensus as to the best method of classification of narcotics, as of the early 2000s narcotics were commonly classified into three main classes according to their origin, namely; 1) natural derivatives of opium: – morphine and codeine; 2) partially synthetic drugs derived from morphine: – heroin, oxycodone, hydromorphine, and oxymorphine, and; 3) synthetic compounds that resemble morphine in their chemical structure: – fentanyl, methadone, and propoxyphene.

[Addiction Science Network, (1999)] In the US, the Controlled Substance Act of 1970 divided the substances into five schedules; these schedules govern the legal distribution and use of most substances with a significant abuse liability.

Schedule I substances have got a high abuse liability and are not approved for medical use, there is lack of accepted safety for use of the drug under medical supervision, substance includes marijuana, heroin, and peyote; schedule II substances have decreasing abuse liability, its abuse may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence, have a current medical use in the US substance includes cocaine, methadone, phencyclidine, and methamphatine; Schedule III have less potential abuse liability than those in Schedule I and II, has currently accepted medical use in treatment in the US, abuse of the drug may lead to moderate or low physical dependence or psychological dependence, substances include anabolic steroids, codeine and hydrocodone with aspirin or Tylenol; Schedule IV substances have low potential for abuse relative to those in Schedule III, have a currently accepted medical use in US, abuse of the drug may lead to limited dependence or psychological dependence relative to the substances in Schedule III, substances include Darvon, Talwin, Equani, Valium, and Xanax; while Schedule V substances have a recognized abuse liability, have a currently accepted medical use in US, abuse of the drug may lead to limited dependence or psychological dependence relative to the substances in Schedule IV, but a re generally not restricted. [Addiction Science Network, (1999)] Narcotics are classified under the Schedule II drugs under Controlled Substances Act of 1970. Under this classification narcotics are descried as having a high potential for abuse and addiction and yet an approved medical use in pain management. In Canada, the Controlled Drugs and Substance Act of 1997 categorizes any medication that contain narcotics under the heading (H) but goes ahead and specifies varying regulation levels, ranging from strict for highly addictive single-drug products to lesser controls on drugs that comprises of narcotic and a non-narcotic substances.

One of the common characteristic among narcotics is that they are highly addictive in nature, a factor that led to most countries in the twentieth century to enact laws that sought to restrict the production and distribution of these drugs. Legally, narcotics refer to opium, opium derivatives, and their semi-synthetic substitutes, in other words narcotics are drugs that produce morphine-like effects. Article 36 of the Single Convention of 1961 requires that states criminalize the cultivation, production, manufacture, extraction, preparation, possession, offering for sale, distribution, purchase, sale, and delivery on any terms whatsoever, brokerage, dispatch, and dispatch in transit, transport, importation and exportation of drugs.

Further, any form of international participation, conspiracy to commit and attempts to commit, any such offenses, and preparatory acts and financial operations in connection with the offenses referred to in the article is criminalized. For one to be convicted of any of the several offenses that are provided for by the Article 36 of the Single Convention, enough evidence has to be gathered. Several forensic methods of gathering evidence to prosecute drug abuse related crimes exist. The testing of urine, blood, and the hair of a suspect are equally permitted by the law. For instance hair analysis results have been allowed as evidence of drug use and exposure by federal and state appellate courts and in arbitration, military and employment security hearings.

However, the acceptance of blood, hair, urine drug testing results is subject to many underlying factors, which may include; relevance, rules of evidence, probable case, court orders, availability of testing laboratory, voluntary or coerced statements, etc. A judge decides on which drug test evidence will suit the case at hand guided by legal readings, expert testimony scientific publications, and prior judicial decisions. [Smith & Liu (1986)] Expert testimony concerning the blood, urine, and hair analysis for drug use has been accepted by courts, for instance, in US, the admissibility of expert testimony is governed by the Frye Rule (Frye v. US, 1923), the Federal Rules of Evidence (Moore 1994a), and the Daubert rules (Daubert v. Merrell, 1993). For instance, the Frye Rule states;

“that the opinions of experts or skilled witnesses are admissible in evidence in those cases in which the matter of inquiry is such that inexperienced persons are unlikely to prove capable of forming a correct judgment upon it, for the reason that the subject matter so far partakes of science, art, or trade as to require a previous habit or experience or study in it, in order to acquire a knowledge of it…Just when a scientific principle or discovery crosses the line between the experimental and demonstrable stages is difficult to define. Somewhere in this twilight zone the evidential force of the principle must be recognized, and while courts will go along way in admitting expert testimony deduced from a well-recognized scientific principle or discovery, the thing from which the deduction is made must be sufficiently established to have gained general acceptance in the particular field in which it belongs. ” (Frye v. US, 1923) On the other hand, the Federal Rules of Evidence that govern expert testimony include the following;

Rule 702; Testimony of Experts: If scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will assist the judge or fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue, a witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education, may testify thereto in the form of an opinion or otherwise. Rule 703; Bases of Opinion testimony by Experts: the facts or data in particular case upon which an expert bases an opinion or inference may be those perceived by or made known to the experts in the particular field in forming opinions or inferences upon the subject, the facts or data need not be admissible in evidence.

Rule 705; Disclosure of Facts or Data Underlying Expert Opinion: the expert may testify in terms of opinion or inference and give reasons therefore without first testifying to the underlying facts or data, unless the court requires otherwise. The expert may in any event be required to disclose the underlying facts or data on cross-examination. [Moore (1994a)] It is worthy noting that, blood, urine, and hair tests in drug cases are used as evidence in both civil and criminal proceedings. In civil procedures for instance, evidence may be more readily accepted because of the lower standard of proof whereas in criminal cases proof must be provided beyond reasonable doubt.


Daubert (1993) v. Merrell Pharmaceuticals, Inc. , 509 US 579, accessed on March 23, 2009 Frye v. US (1923). 293 F. 1013, accessed on March 23, 2009 Moore, J. W. (1994a) Moore’s Federal Practice, Federal Rules of Evidence. Mathew Bender pp. 315, 326, 341, accessed on March 23, 2009 National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). NIDA InfoFacts: Prescription Pain and Other Medications. Bethesda, MD: NIAMS, 2004, accessed on March 23, 2009 Smith, F. P. & Liu, R. H. (1986). Detection of cocaine metabolite in perspiration stain, menstrual bloodstain, and hair. Journal of forensic Science. 31, 1269-1273, accessed on March 23, 2009 Addiction Science Network; “Drug Classification”, (1999), available at; http://www. addictionscience. net/ASNclass. htm, accessed on March 23, 2009

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