Prescription drugs are medicines that cannot be legally purchased without a prescription from an authorized medical professional, including doctors and dentists. Prescription drugs are differentiated from over-the-counter drugs in that the over-the-counter drugs may be purchased without a prescription.
Such drugs tend to be stronger and more effective than over-the-counter drugs. This also means that prescription drugs also have more side effects. Additionally, newer prescription drugs may lack testing and research, meaning that unknown side effects may develop over time.
Prescription drugs are intended to be provided by and taken under the authority of a doctor or other individual licensed to write prescriptions. Individuals are not permitted to possess prescription drugs without a valid prescription which was obtained legally, or without the use of fraud or through a pill mill.
In addition, it is unlawful for any individual in legal possession of prescription drugs to sell those drugs. There are numerous types of prescription drugs, which include:
- Pain medications;
- Blood pressure medications;
- Diabetes medications; and/or
- Various other types of medications.
In contrast to over-the-counter drugs, prescription drugs are typically sold in hospital or pharmacy settings. Prescription drugs often contain special instruction packets which help prevent injury and help the effectiveness of the drugs.
What are Some Examples of Prescription Drug Crimes?
As noted above, prescription drugs are issued under the care and instruction of an authorized physician or other type of doctor. These types of drugs cannot be legally possessed or sold without having the proper documentation.
Prescription drug abuse has become more common in recent years. Certain prescription drugs are considered just as dangerous as illegal drugs including heroin and cocaine because these drugs are narcotics, or stimulants, just like some illegal drugs.
The possession, use, and distribution of prescription drugs is regulated by criminal laws. Common examples of crimes involving prescription drugs include:
- Unauthorized or illegal possession of prescription drugs, such as possession without a valid prescription or with a prescription obtained by fraud;
- Illegal distribution of prescription drugs, or the intent to distribute, which includes buying or selling prescription drugs online or through a pill mill;
- The armed robbery of a pharmacy, which is becoming an increasing concern due to serious addiction among some users;
- Altering prescription drugs;
- Tampering with prescription drug labels;
- Stealing prescription notes;
- Forging a doctor’s signature for a prescription;
- Illegally using someone else’s prescription; and/or
- Posing as someone else in order to obtain their prescription.
Can Other Persons be Held Liable for Prescription Drug Crimes?
In many cases, a prescription drug crime involves an individual using the drugs illegally, or an individual obtaining the drugs illegally and reselling them on the black market. However, other individuals may be found guilty for a prescription drug crime, such as a medical professional.
In certain cases, the doctor or pharmacist may be involved in the criminal activity by acting in collusion with the drug seller or distributor. For example, the doctor or pharmacist may issue a fake prescription.
These actions may constitute pharmacist malpractice for the professional and these individuals risk losing their license. These practices may also lead to criminal penalties for the medical professional.
What are the Legal Penalties for Prescription Drug Crimes?
The legal penalties for prescription drug crimes may be very serious. The penalty will depend on the type of crime perpetrated, the type of drug involved, and the amount of the drug.
Lesser crimes that involve the possession of drugs without a prescription, and without intent to distribute, may result in misdemeanor charges. Misdemeanor charges may result in jail time of up to one year and criminal fines.
A more serious crime, such as possession of large quantities of a drug, or the actual distribution of drugs may result in felony charges. Felonies are punishable by longer prison sentences, between 2 and 20 years, as well as higher fines, in some cases up to $10,000. If an individual engages in repeat offenses or crimes involving violence, the penalties may be more severe.
There are also other consequences which can result from a drug conviction. These may include the loss of the right to possess a firearm or the confiscation of a vehicle used to transport the controlled substance.
In addition to these consequences and penalties, there will be other results from a drug charge. The drugs will be confiscated as well as any paraphernalia, money, and property that was associated with the drug operations.
There are defenses that may be available to defendants who are charged with prescription drug crimes. It is best to consult with an attorney to determine what defenses may apply.
What is the Unwitting Possession Defense?
The unwitting possession defense is a defense that a defendant may use when they are in actual possession of a prescription drug, but were not aware that the possession was illegal. This defense is available because an individual must be aware that they are in possession of the drug illegally.
An example of unwitting possession occurs when one individual gives another individual a bag to hold. If the individual holding the bag is not aware that it contains prescription drugs, then they do not possess the required knowledge to be found guilty of illegal possession.
Another example occurs if the drugs are left in an individual’s vehicle which are later discovered during a traffic stop. A defendant may not be found guilty if they were completely unaware of the presence of the prescription drugs.
What is the Lack of Possession Defense?
A lack of possession means that a defendant did not have actual control over the drug. The foundation of a prescription drug charge is physical possession.
For example, suppose that an individual shared an area with a group of other individuals, such as a vehicle or a home. The prosecution must show that the prescription drugs were in the exclusive possession of the individual, such as in their bedroom. This is because anyone who used the shared area or shared vehicle could have possessed the drugs.
What is the Illegal Search and Seizure Defense?
The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits law enforcement from searching an individual’s home without a warrant. In addition, it prohibits law enforcement from searching a vehicle without probable cause.
If law enforcement conducts a search without probable cause or without a warrant, the prescription drugs may be excluded from use as evidence in a courtroom, or suppressed. A defense attorney is best equipped to determine whether this defense may be applicable to a case.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with Prescription Drug Charges?
It is crucial to have an experienced drug lawyer if you are facing any prescription drug charges. These charges can be just as serious as other types of drug charges.
As noted above, a conviction for a prescription drug crime may result in incarceration or hefty fines. You may also lose certain rights, especially if you are convicted of a felony.
Your attorney can review your case, determine if any defenses are available to you, and represent you during any court proceedings, if necessary. As previously discussed, the consequences of prescription drug charges can be devastating and include the loss of your professional license, if you have one.