Drugs are nonfood chemicals that alter the way a person thinks, feels, functions, or behaves. This includes everything from prescription medications, to illegal chemicals like heroin, to popular and widely available substances like alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine. A wide variety of laws, regulations, and government agencies exist to control the possession, sale, and use of drugs. Different drugs are held to different standards based on their perceived dangers and usefulness; a fact that some-times leads to disagreement and controversy.
Illegal drugs are drugs with no currently accepted medical use in the United States, such as heroin, LSD, and marijuana. It is illegal to buy, sell, possess, and use these drugs except for research purposes. They are supplied only to registered, qualified researchers. Legal drugs, by contrast, are drugs whose sale, possession, and use as intended are not forbidden by law. Their use may be restricted, however. For example, the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) controls the use of legal psychoactive (mood-or mind-altering) drugs that have potential for abuse. These drugs, which include narcotics, depressants, and stimulants (see "Five Categories of Substances" below), are available only with a prescription and are called "controlled substances."
The goal of the DEA is to ensure that controlled substances are readily available for medical use, while preventing their illegal sale and abuse. The agency works toward accomplishing its goal by requiring people and businesses that manufacture, distribute, prescribe, and dispense controlled substances to register with the DEA. Registrants must abide by a series of requirements relating to drug security, records accountability, and adherence to standards.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also plays a role in drug control. This agency regulates the manufacture and marketing of prescription and nonprescription drugs, requiring the active ingredients in a product to be safe and effective before allowing the drug to be sold.
Alcohol and tobacco are monitored and specially taxed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) of the U.S. Department of Justice. The alcohol program of this governmental agency regulates the qualification and operations of distilleries, wineries, and breweries. Additionally, it tests alcoholic beverages to ensure that their regulated ingredients are within legal limits and monitors labels for misleading information. The ATF tobacco program screens applicants who wish to manufacture, import, or export tobacco products.