In scientific terms, hydrocodone is a prescription drug that is derived from the painkiller drug codeine. Hydrocodone is a semi-synthetic substance that is usually taken orally to relieve pain in an individual. As such, hydrocodone is often prescribed as a narcotic pain reliever that acts similarly to the drug morphine. Hydrocodone may also be present or combined in stronger cough medicine, or combined with other substances like acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

Because hydrocodone is an opioid, individuals may become addicted to the narcotic pain reliever. As such, hydrocodone is often abused by many individuals in the United States. Hydrocodone is abused by both prescription users and recreational users. Because individuals abuse the drug, the United States has regulated hydrocodone under both federal and state laws.

Abuse of hydrocodone can lead to severe psychological or physical issues, including dependence on the drug for daily functions. As a highly prescribed pain reliever, hydrocodone and opiate painkillers result in well over half a million emergency room visits per year, and are responsible for over three fourths of pharmaceutical related deaths.

Common prescribed drugs that contain hydrocodone include:

  • Norco;
  • Xodol;
  • Procet;
  • Vicodin;
  • Vicoprofen; and
  • Stronger cough medication such as Hycotuss, Kwelcof, and Tussionex.

What Are Drug Crimes?

As mentioned above, hydrocodone is a prescription painkiller that is highly prescribed throughout the United States. Additionally, there are both federal and state regulations regarding the use of hydrocodone. With a valid prescription and proper use, it is legal to possess hydrocodone. However, if an individual does not have a valid prescription, or is not using their prescription validly, then they may be charged with a drug crime.

Drug crimes are regulated by both the federal government and all fifty states. Federal and state laws have thus been enacted to address the possession, use, manufacture, and sale of certain drugs. Each drug crime has its standards and penalties, especially in terms of the severity of the drug crime alleged to have been committed.

The following is a list of common drug crimes:

  • Possession: Drug possession is the most common drug crime offense. Drug possession charges generally arise when a person is knowingly in possession of a regulated drug without a valid prescription. In general, drug possession charges consider the amount of the drug possessed by the individual. Additionally, drug possession charges may be more severe for individuals that possess the drug with the intent to sell and distribute the drug;
  • Manufacturing: Drug manufacturing is a heavily licensed and regulated industry within the United States. As such, when an individual or multiple individuals create or “cook” a synthetic chemical substance, there are severe punishments for those activities.
    • Examples of drug manufacturing include cooking methamphetamines, or growing cannabis in a location that does not permit such activity. Additionally, repackaging a drug for resale could constitute manufacturing in many states;
  • Use: Another common drug crime is the simple use of illegal drugs. This is especially true especially in cases in which the drug requires a prescription from a doctor and the offender does not have the required prescription. As such, illegal use of hydrocodone may be result in criminal charges;
  • Distribution: As mentioned above, the drug industry in the United States is heavily regulated. As such, the distribution of drugs is a drug crime that carries severe criminal penalties. Distribution drug crimes include the sale, smuggling, trafficking, and/or delivery of illegal substances; and
  • Drug Trafficking: Drug trafficking charges include criminal behavior such as the possession, manufacture, sale, purchase, and/or delivery of illegal or controlled substances. Drug trafficking is essentially a category of drug crimes that charges individuals for the involvement in the process of the sale of illegal drugs.
    • This includes all steps of the illegal sale, such as transporting and/or importing of an illegal drug or controlled substance. Individuals may also be charged with drug trafficking for the illegal sale of prescription drugs, such as hydrocodone products. Trafficking is considered one of the most serious drug crimes, and as such is charged as a felony and carries severe criminal penalties.

The legality of most drugs is determined by how the drugs are being used, and what they are being used for. Once again, prescription drugs such as hydrocodone are considered legal for those who have a valid prescription. However, if an individual possesses or uses a prescription drug without a prescription from a doctor, they may be charged with a drug crime.

Is Hydrocodone Illegal?

In short, no. As mentioned above, hydrocodone is legal to possess as long as the person possessing it has a valid prescription. It is important to note that hydrocodone by itself is a Schedule II controlled substance, as a result of the 1970 Controlled Substances legislation. In the past, pure hydrocodone containing less than 15 milligrams of hydrocodone were Schedule III drugs, along with hydrocodone combination products.

However, a recent U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (“DEA”) ruling placed a more restrictive classification on hydrocodone, in any amount, as well as hydrocodone combination products. Now, all hydrocodone related products are Schedule II drugs.

Because hydrocodone products are a Schedule II controlled drug, many states increased the recordkeeping requirements for individuals prescribed hydrocodone, as well as who was able to prescribe hydrocodone. As of today, every prescription of hydrocodone must be obtained from a Doctor, with most states not allowing nurse practitioners to write hydrocodone prescriptions. Additionally, many states created a state database for prescription monitoring.

What Are Penalties for Hydrocodone Crimes?

Once again, the penalties for hydrocodone drug crimes will depend on the specific circumstances in how the drug was used. For instance, possession of hydrocodone for personal use without a valid prescription may result in serious criminal penalties.

However, if the individual has a prescription, and follows that prescription, then the use is legal. A conviction for charges related to unlawful use of hydrocodone may result in imprisonment of 1 to 5 years, criminal fines, or a combination of both. The severity of the punishment will be dependent on the state laws, along with how the drug was being used.

If an individual possessed hydrocodone with the intent to sell or distribute the drug, then that individual may be charged with a felony. Felony drug charges are punishable by imprisonment of 5 to 10 years, severe criminal fines, or a combination of both. The severity of the punishment related to possession with an intent to sell or distribute is dependent on the amount of hydrocodone that is possessed.

As can be seen, all drug crime charges require the prosecution to show that the accused individual acted with criminal intent. Importantly, criminal intent may be inferred from the facts surrounding the case. Thus, if an individual repackages hydrocodone, the prosecution will assume that they are preparing to sell the drug.

In addition to imprisonment and criminal fines, hydrocodone drug crimes may also result in additional penalties, such as:

  • The loss of the right to possess a firearm;
  • The loss of the right to possess a driver’s license, or commercial license;
  • Confiscation of all money and vehicles used in the criminal act; and/or
  • Loss of the ability to qualify for federal or state benefits.

Do I Need A Lawyer For Hydrocodone Drug Charges?

If you are facing criminal charges related to hydrocodone, you should immediately contact an experienced drug lawyer. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you understand your legal rights and options according to your state’s specific laws, and will also be able to defend you in court, as needed.