All fifty states, as well as the federal government, have laws that address the possession, use, manufacture, and sale of specific drugs. Each crime has certain standards of proof that must be met, as well as different penalties, especially in terms of the severity of the crime that was committed.
Drug crimes generally include offenses such as:
- Possession: Drug possession is the most common offense in terms of drug crimes. Drug possession charges generally arise when a person is knowingly in possession of a drug without authorization, such as when a person has a drug without a valid prescription.
- Drug possession charges generally consider the amount of the drug as well, and penalties can vary considerably depending on whether the amount is for personal use, or for sale and distribution;
- Manufacturing: Drug manufacturing frequently involves creating or “cooking” a synthetic chemical substance, or extracting a natural drug. An example of this would be cooking methamphetamines, or growing illegal marijuana. Another example of manufacturing would be packaging a drug for resale;
- Use: The use of illegal drugs can sometimes be considered as a criminal act, especially when the drug requires a prescription from a doctor but the offender does not have the required prescription; and
- Distribution: This type of drug crime includes the sale, smuggling, trafficking, and delivery of illegal substances.
Drug crimes can also include offenses such as drug trafficking, which is largely dependent on the amount of drugs involved as well as the type of drug involved.
The legality of most drugs is determined by how it is being used, and what it is being used for. An example of this would be how cannabis is illegal in many states, while some states allow it for recreational use, and others allow it only with a medical prescription. Prescription drugs are considered to be legal for those who have a valid prescription; however, if you possess or use a prescription drug without a valid prescription from a doctor, you may be charged with a drug crime.
Cannabis is the most commonly used illegal drug in the United States, including in states that prohibit its possession and use. Recently, considerable changes have taken place in cannabis laws, the result of which being that eleven states recognize marijuana as legal for both recreational and medical use while more recognize it only for medical use with a valid prescription.
Other common examples of drugs that may bring about criminal charges include substances such as:
- Ecstasy; and
- PCP (or, Angel Dust.)
Generally speaking, a controlled substance is a drug that is regulated by the government. These substances can have a detrimental effect on a person’s health and welfare, and as such they are strictly controlled by government regulation. The Controlled Substances Act divides up different classes of drugs into five schedules based on:
- Medicinal value;
- Potential for abuse;
- Safety to the public; and
- Likelihood for dependency. Controlled substances include both legal and illegal drugs.
What Is A Pill Mill?
Prescription drugs are intended to be issued to patients by a qualified medical professional, for the purpose of treating a medical condition. However, people who want prescription drugs but lack a valid prescription or otherwise cannot access them, can obtain prescription drugs at pill mills.
The term “pill mill” is used to describe a clinic, pharmacy, or doctor that dispenses or prescribes powerful narcotics for non-medical or inappropriate reasons. These so-called “pill mills” have fueled the drug trade by prescribing large amounts of opioid drugs and controlled substances.
Florida is one of the states that has experienced the most prescription drug abuse associated with pill mills. An example of this would be how prescription drugs were the cause of 81% of all drug-related or drug-caused deaths, excluding deaths that were caused by alcohol, in 2010. In 2011, the percentage of deaths associated with prescription drug abuse was even greater than that of 2010. In response, Florida instituted pill mill laws, as well as a Prescription Drug Monitoring Program.
A pill mill hides in plain sight, operating as a pain management office, pain clinic, or doctor’s office with a staff. Pill mills generally have signage which tells people that medication is dispensed at that location, and/or that out-of-state patients are welcome at the clinic. Further evidence of a pill mill would be signage indicating that no appointment is needed.
Additionally, there is generally a doctor or other medical professionals on staff who will write a prescription based merely on a quick medical examination. Once the prescription is written, the clinic fills the prescription immediately in house. The filled prescriptions generally cost more than they would at a traditional pharmacy, and include a higher number of pills that would normally be prescribed in each container.
These reasons make pill mills an especially lucrative business for criminals. Physicians illegally prescribing opioids or other prescription medications are often paid in cash or other untraceable forms of payment.
Is It Illegal For A Doctor To Work In Or Operate A Pill Mill?
People generally go to this type of clinic for various reasons, such as:
- They do not have access to a doctor who can prescribe the medication that they actually need;
- They do not have access to health insurance;
- They want to acquire drugs and/or prescription medication in order to resell; and/or
- They are addicted to the pain medication itself, such as an addiction to oxycontin.
It is illegal under federal law for a doctor to prescribe pain medication without having a legitimate medical purpose for doing so. Additionally, it is also illegal for a doctor to write a prescription outside the course of their medical practice.
Prescriptions that are considered to be invalid by a pharmacist can result in the issuing medical professional being arrested for drug trafficking under federal law. Additionally, physicians must be registered with the DEA in order to prescribe controlled substances; they must have also obtained proper state licensing.
Additionally, their registration must be renewed every 3 years, and the physician must be registered in every state in which they dispense controlled substances. Failure to register with the DEA, operate without proper state licensing, or prescribe prescription medications in a pill mill carries considerably severe federal criminal penalties.
Penalties for violating federal law on controlled substances include:
- Jail time;
- Loss of DEA licensure; and
- Loss of medical licensure.
Additionally, the DEA can investigate and participate in the arrest and prosecution of physicians who violate controlled substance laws. This would apply to those who are suspected of working in or operating a pill mill. Physicians may also face additional sanctions from the governing board that issued their medical license.
Do I Need A Lawyer If I Am Accused Of Operating Or Working In A Pill Mill?
If you have been accused of being associated with a pill mill, it is in your best interest to consult with a well qualified and licensed drug lawyer regarding your particular case and circumstances.
An experienced criminal attorney will ensure that you understand your legal rights and options according to your state’s specific drug crime laws, and will also be able to represent you in court, as needed. Additionally, an attorney will be able to determine whether there are any defenses available to you based on the circumstances of your case.