Because prescription medications are legal, some people believe you can’t be charged with a crime for using them. However, it is possible to face prosecution for obtaining prescription drugs illegally or selling them illegally to someone else. In fact, the penalties for a prescription drug crime can be as serious as those an individual might face for using illegal drugs.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the most commonly abused prescription drugs include barbiturates, sleep medications, and opioids like codeine, oxycodone, morphine, methadone, and fentanyl.
If a person is caught stealing these drugs, or someone buys or sells them illegally, they can face prison time, fines, and other penalties. It’s also a crime to impersonate a doctor for purposes of obtaining a prescription or to alter or fabricate a prescription using a doctor’s prescription pad.
An individual can also face criminal charges for selling prescription medication to a friend or family member. Any of these activities can result in serious felony charges that carry lengthy prison sentences and expensive fines. If you or a loved one have been charged with a prescription drug crime, it’s important to speak with a criminal defense lawyer in Texas that has experience handling these types of cases.
Types of Prescription Drug Crimes
There are several different ways a person can get into serious legal trouble with prescription medications. In recent years, prescription drug crimes have spiked, as communities across the country have grappled with the opioid crisis.
In 2017, there were a record number of deaths caused by opioid overdoses, with 72,000 people dying due to opioids. Narcotics and stimulants have also caused a high number of deaths in recent years.
- Forging prescriptions – In some cases, patients who are desperate for a prescription due to addiction may resort to stealing a doctor’s prescription pad or the paper the doctor’s office uses to write out prescriptions.
- Altering prescriptions – A patient may have a valid prescription, but it’s a crime to alter the original prescription. For example, a patient might change the dosage to get more of the drug, or they might add a refill to the prescription when the doctor didn’t supply them with automatic refills.
- Doctor shopping – Doctors have a legal and ethical duty to limit the amount of painkillers and other drugs they dispense to patients. It’s extremely easy for an individual to become addicted to painkillers, which is why states have passed laws that seek to place tighter controls on what a provider can dispense. In some cases, patients attempt to get around these controls by engaging in doctor shopping, which involves seeing multiple providers without telling the various providers the patient is seeing more than one doctor.
- Fraud when obtaining or filling a prescription – There have also been cases in which a patient calls a pharmacy and pretends to be a doctor, nurse, or another employee for purposes of obtaining a prescription or a refill.
Prescription drug crimes can be serious, and people charged with these offenses can face felony prosecution.
Sadly, in some cases, people become addicted to narcotics or opioids after an accident, surgery or another health incident. Research shows that many people can become addicted quite quickly. When they can’t obtain a refill or wean themselves off the medication, they might resort to illegal means to obtain the relief they need.
Most of these individuals don’t have a criminal record, and many of them are responsible adults who never thought they would develop a drug problem. That is why it’s important for anyone charged with a prescription drug crime to speak with an experienced Texas drug crime defense lawyer about their case.
Penalties for Prescription Drug Crimes in Texas
Under Texas law, the consequences of a prescription drug crime conviction can be severe. For example, an individual charged with a second-degree felony drug offense can face up to 20 years in prison, along with a maximum fine of $10,000. Under the law, Schedule I or II drugs are prosecuted as second-degree felonies.
For a drug classified as a Schedule III or IV drug, the offender is typically charged with a third-degree felony, which is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
For Schedule V drugs, most people are charged with a Class A misdemeanor, which can result in one year in prison and a maximum fine of $4,000 if the individual is convicted.
In addition to fines and prison time, a person convicted of a prescription drug crime can face personal and professional consequences. People with a professional license, such as teaching, may find they can’t work in their field anymore. A drug conviction can also result in missed job opportunities and perhaps even difficulties finding housing.
Drug addiction is frequently painful for the person and their loved ones. Whether the drug is a narcotic, stimulant, or pain reliever, people can struggle to overcome their dependence on the substance. If you have been charged with a prescription drug crime, it’s important to get experienced legal help from a knowledgeable drug crime defense attorney in Texas.
Federal Drug Crime Defense Attorney John Helms