Although tramadol (Ultram) may not be considered a narcotic by some people, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has reclassified it as such due to its high potential for abuse. It is an opioid drug, and research has recently shown that tramadol works similarly to morphine, and there have been reports of abuse and dependence on it.
The word "narcotic" means different things in different situations (and to different people). From a medical standpoint, narcotics are medications that cause drowsiness and dulling of the senses, and the term is usually used in reference to opioids (morphine and other similar drugs such as heroin). However, most law enforcement officials (and most of the general public) use the word "narcotic" to describe any addictive medication or illegal substance, such as cocaine or marijuana, even if they are actually stimulants.
No matter what definition you choose, it is not entirely clear if tramadol is a narcotic. Tramadol is an opioid drug, because it binds to opioid receptors. However, it does not seem to be as addictive as other opioids, although tramadol addiction and abuse may occur. Legally, this medication was not initially considered a narcotic because it is not listed as such in the Controlled Substances Act. However, since the drug was reclassified in July 2014, tramadol is now legally considered to be a narcotic.
Is Tramadol a Controlled Substance?
Controlled substances are drugs (either legal or illegal) that are listed in the Controlled Substances Act. These drugs have the potential to be abused and are subject to specific rules and regulations that are stricter, compared to medications that are not controlled substances.
Tramadol is classified as a Schedule IV controlled substance. Originally, tramadol was marketed as a medication with weak narcotic effects and little potential for abuse. As a result, many healthcare providers came to view tramadol as a relatively safe medication for people who were at risk for drug abuse, such as people with previous problems with drug or alcohol abuse. However, research has since demonstrated that this medication works primarily through morphine-like activity, and numerous cases of abuse and dependence have been reported. Now, the prescribing information for tramadol contains several different warnings about the potential for abuse.
Written by/reviewed by: Kristi Monson, PharmD;Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
U.S. Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration, Office of Diversion Control. Drugs and chemicals of concern: tramadol (9/2008). DEA Web site. Available at: http://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/drugs_concern/tramadol.htm. Accessed December 16, 2008.
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Schedules of controlled substances: placement of tramadol into Schedule IV (July 2, 2014). DEA Web site. Available at: http://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/fed_regs/rules/2014/fr0702.htm. Accessed September 21, 2014.
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