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What you should know about prescription drug charges

Prescription drugs are used by many in order to control pain, heal infections, and achieve proper balance of brain chemicals. In most cases people use these drugs only as they are prescribed, but as many as 20% of Americans use prescription drugs when they aren't prescribed, and for reasons other that what is intended.

On the other hand, there are many who are prescribed the drugs and only use a fraction of their prescription, especially if they have been prescribed a controlled substance. They want to limit their dependence on the drug, and work to tolerate their condition on as little of the medication as possible. This leaves them with leftover medication, and it can be all too easy to be tempted to offer a couple spare Oxycontin pills to a friend who is experiencing a high level of pain. This, however is not a wise move. In New York, distribution of controlled substance, even with the most innocent of intentions can make you guilty of a felony.

In some cases, a person may use up their medication, but may feel that getting more isn't worth another trip to their doctor for just a few more pills. They might be tempted to forge a prescription in order to get a boost. This also leads to illegal possession, and adds on the charge of forgery, which can increase the severity of the consequences.

Popular Controlled Substance Prescription Drugs

Not all prescription drugs are considered "controlled substances." For example, a simple antibiotic doesn't fall into that category. A controlled substance is one that's manufacture, use, and possession are regulated by the government. In most cases, this is done in part by a state's participation in the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program. Every state but one, as well as Washington D.C. and some territories participate. In addition to opiate based pain killers, such as Oxycontin and Vicodin, other popular substances that are frequently distributed and used for recreational purposes include mood stabilizing drugs, such as Xanax, used for anxiety and related disorders, and Adderall, commonly prescribed to those diagnosed with ADHD. Possessing these drugs without a valid prescription is considered a felony in most cases, especially if it can be shown that there is an intent to sell them. In fact even offering one of these drugs can sometimes be considered evidence of an intent to illegally distribute, even if you aren't shown to be in possession of the drug.

How Severe Can The Consequences Be?

The severity of the penalties for drug crimes, including those related to prescription drugs can vary considerably

The New York Penal Law divides controlled substance laws into various sections. These include

  • Criminal possession, which is considered either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the amount you have.
  • Criminal Sale, which is always a felony.
  • Criminal Possession of Precursors of Controlled substance, such as having the ingredients to manufacture a controlled substance.
  • Operating as a Major drug trafficker.
  • Marijuana offenses

Selling a controlled substance, or having plans to do so is the most serious of these offenses. The crimes themselves are broken down into degrees. A first degree offense is subject to the most severe punishment. A major drug trafficker may be charged with a first degree felony, and if convicted they may serve a jail term of 15 years to life, as well as pay hefty fines, which include the proceeds of their sales. A fifth degree offense is least serious, however, even first offenders of the unlawful sale of a controlled substance may face up to 2.5 years in prison in addition to fines. In order for a prosecutor to prove their case on a fifth degree sale, they must prove that the person possessing the drug had a specific intent to transfer it, as well as the means to do so.

Defense Against Charges

Defending oneself against any drug charges is difficult, because the court is generally not looking to be sensitive to your side of the story. Having an attorney can increase you chances of success by either helping you be found not guilty, or by reducing the charges through a plea bargain. Some defenses that are often used include

  • Not intending to sell
  • Not understanding that the substance was a controlled substance, or it's potential dangers
  • Possession only for personal use
  • Entrapment
  • Being under the age of 16, in which case a different system would apply.

If you've been charged with a drug crime related to prescription drugs, it is important to start working on your defensive game plan as soon as possible. An aggressive and experienced criminal defense lawyer can often see holes in the prosecution's case and may be able to get charges reduced or dropped, securing more of your freedom and peace of mind.

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Suffolk County Defenders Association New York State Defenders Association | Founded 1967 New York State Bar Association Suffolk County Bar Association | NY 1908

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