Drugs are classified for two major purposes with different emphases: by therapeutic category, and as controlled substances.
A drug’s therapeutic category refers to its purpose—the diseases or conditions it treats. Many drugs belong to more than one therapeutic category because they treat or relieve more than one symptom or disease. (Drugs.com)
There is no set standard for drug categories. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) used to maintain a category list, but stopped doing this after passage of Medicare Part D. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the agency that operates Medicare, maintains a therapeutic drug category list. (Google Answers)
Most health plans either adhere to the CMS list, or publish their own categories. Differences usually depend on the purpose a drug has been prescribed. For example, Botox, is almost never covered for cosmetic purposes as few health plans cover cosmetic procedures. However, Botox was recently approved by the FDA to treat migraines and will probably be approved by most plans for this purpose. In addition, CMS almost always covers FDA-approved drugs.
The other major drug classification system comes from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and was created to control the flow of prescription and illegal drugs. DEA created five schedules that describe the extent that a drug may be abused regardless of its efficacy. These schedules are determined by a framework described in the Controlled Substances Act:
(U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration)
Below are descriptions of each of the five drug schedules.
(Drug Enforcement Administration)
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“Drug Classes.” Drugs.com. n.d. Web. 18 Oct. 2010.
“List of Therapeutic Class Codes by the FDA or NDC.” Google Answers. 19 June 2005. Web. 18 Oct. 2010.
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Drugs of Abuse. U.S. Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration. 2011 edition. Web. 18 Oct. 2010.