Prescription Drug Charges

Prescription drug abuse is a high priority for local and federal law enforcement. Because prescription drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death* in the United States, officials are taking prescription drug crimes more seriously now than ever. This means, if you are caught with a prescription drug charge, you could be facing serious consequences as police and the courts attempt to “send a message” to the rest of the population.

Charges

There are many ways that prescription drugs can get you into trouble with the law. The truth is: you can even face charges when the prescription is yours and it was written for a completely valid cause. While the laws vary widely from state to state, some common prescription drug crimes include:

  • Possession of a prescription drug without a lawful prescription
  • Obtaining prescription drugs by fraud
  • Forging a prescription
  • Selling prescription drugs, whether the original prescription is yours or not
  • Driving under the influence of prescription drugs
  • Doctor “shopping” (going to multiple doctors to obtain multiple prescriptions)

Identifying a prescription drug crime can be difficult for law enforcement in some situations. After all, who are they to determine whether or not you have a valid need for your pills? While being in possession of these drugs without a prescription is an obvious law violation, proving that you didn’t need your valid prescription to begin with presents much more of a challenge.

Prescription Drug Possession – Penalties

When it comes to prescription drug crimes and penalties, the charge and subsequent sentence you face depends on several factors, namely: what drug you are accused of possession, selling, etc., and how much of it you have. In some states, a single pill can warrant charges as serious as an entire bottle. In others, however, the quantity involved plays a bigger role.

Under the Controlled Substances Act, all drugs are classified by how dangerous they are into Schedules. Schedule I is the group of substances that are considered the most dangerous and addictive while Schedule V drugs carry the lowest risk of addiction. The chart below outlines the details of the federal drug schedules that most states have adopted.

  Definition Examples
Schedule I
  • Highest addiction risk
  • No accepted medical use
There are no prescription drugs classified as Schedule I substances.
Schedule II
  • High risk of abuse
  • High risk of physical and psychological addiction
oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet), fentanyl, meperidine (Demerol), methadone (Dolophine), hydromorphone (Dilaudid)
Schedule III
  • Risk of abuse
  • Moderate or low risk of physical dependence, high risk of psychological dependence
Combination drugs containing less than 15% hydrocodone (Vicodin), not more than 90 mg. of codeine (Tylenol with Codeine), buprenorphine (Suboxone), ketamine, anabolic steroids
Schedule IV
  • Low potential for abuse
alprazolam (Xanax), carisoprodol (Soma), clonazepam (Klonopin), clorazepate (Tanxene), diazepam (Valium) lorazepam (Ativan), Rohypnol, sleep medications
Schedule V
  • Low risk of abuse
Cough medicines containing no more than 200 mg of codeine per 100 ml

 

The exact charge you face and the penalty heavily depend on the state in which you are charged. Many states follow the federally crafted Schedules precisely, while others have their own definitions in place.

In Arizona, for instance, you can be charged with a Class 5 Felony for “possession of narcotics” (oxycodone or morphine, for example) or a Class 1 Misdemeanor for “possession of dangerous drugs” which includes a variety of other non-narcotic prescriptions.  In Texas, however, if you are caught in possession of a drug in what they call “penalty groups” 3 or 4 (which include most prescription drugs), you could face up to one year in jail and thousands of dollars in fines.

The best way to know for certain what you are up against is to discuss your case with a local criminal defense attorney, someone who knows how your state classifies and penalizes drug charges.

Sentencing Alternatives

Because accidental overdoses are becoming so widespread and illegal use of prescription drugs being called an “epidemic”, many jurisdictions are eager to help people accused of these crimes get drug treatment. If you are accused of a prescription drug offense, and especially if this is your first such offense, you may be able to avoid jail time by participating in drug treatment.

There are many alternative sentencing programs available. Drug courts are just one. These courts seek to help people bypass the traditional criminal courts in favor of courts that help them overcome addiction by following strict rules and attending drug treatment.

Even in jurisdictions where a drug court is not available, your attorney may be able to argue for leniency, or something called a deferred judgment, where you participate in probation (including treatment) in exchange for the charges being dropped.

Prescription drug offenses are serious crimes and should not be taken lightly. Let us put you in contact with a local criminal defense attorney today.

References: Daily Mail

photo by: CarbonNYC