“Controlled substances” aren’t just hard, illegal drugs. Any drug that is managed through legal channels is a controlled substance. Over-the-counter drugs are inspected and approved, but their sale and distribution aren’t tightly managed. Therefore, any prescription drug is a controlled substance.
Prescription drug crimes have been on the rise since the opioid crisis began in the U.S. What, exactly, makes a prescription drug illegal?
How Prescriptions Become a Crime
Crimes involving prescription drugs are Class 6 felonies. This is the lowest form of felony in Virginia, and it rides the line between being a felony and a misdemeanor. Although technically classified as felonies, Class 6 crimes can be punished with lighter sentences, similar to misdemeanor punishments. A harsher Class 6 sentence will land someone in prison for up to five years, but a lighter sentence could be up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500.
The harshness of the sentence is usually equivalent to the severity of the crime. For example, a single, first-time offender will be more likely to get a lighter sentence. Someone running a prescription drug ring, however, will probably receive a harsher punishment.
When does obtaining a prescription drug become illegal? According to Virginia’s broadest legal language, obtaining a prescription drug by “fraud, deceit, misrepresentation, embezzlement, or subterfuge” is illegal.
Let’s take a closer look at specifics on illegal prescriptions.
Lying to Get a Prescription
State law says that “concealment of a material fact” to get a prescription is illegal. Essentially, lying to get a drug is illegal. Let’s say Bob, after his surgery, genuinely needed pain pills. His recovery took longer than expected, so he was on the meds for a while, too. After he fully recovered, he found he had developed a dependency on the drugs. He kept returning to his doctor, claiming to be suffering, so he could get refills. In this case, Bob’s “concealment of a material fact” is that he didn’t tell the doctor he had recovered. He concealed this truth.
Medical professionals can be culpable for concealment also. If Bob’s doctor knew that Bob was okay but wrote the prescriptions anyway, she can be charged by the state.
If the prescription itself is false, it is illegal. Perhaps someone got their hands on a prescription pad and wrote the prescription themselves. Any type of forgery that was used to obtain drugs is illegal.
Alteration of a prescription is considered fraudulent. For example, if the doctor’s note originally asked for 10 pills, but you added a line to make it look like “70” pills, that is a fraudulent prescription.
Using a false ID to get prescriptions is a type of fraud. This can be done through the use of an actually falsified document or a fake driver’s license. Just like buying alcohol, falsifying information is considered false identification. Using someone else’s name or license to obtain drugs is illegal.
Sometimes people with deep dependencies on opioids will give different names to different doctors to get multiple prescriptions. This is also a form of fake ID that can lead to criminal charges.
Impersonating a Health Professional
Perhaps the person writing the prescriptions is doing so under false pretenses. They may be acting as a doctor or health professional, selling prescriptions to people who need medicine. In this case, the person using the prescription is unlikely to be held accountable, unless they knew in advance that the writer was fraudulent.
Intentional, incorrect labeling of a drug is a crime. Our poor opioid addict, Bob, had gotten so deep into his addiction that he started working with pharmacists to get more painkillers. When he arrived with prescriptions for another medication, Bob would pay the pharmacist under the table to give him another drug. Instead of filling the bottles with the correct prescription, the pharmacists filled them with the opioids. This is an example of how and why someone would falsely label a drug.
So far, we’ve talked about how getting prescriptions can be illegal. Now that the drugs have changed hands, the person carrying those drugs can be charged. If you are found with illegal prescriptions, you could be charged with possession.
Defenses for Prescription Drug Crimes
I am Andrew J. Cornick, Attorney at Law, and I believe in defending people in court. The right to a legal defense is one of the foundational aspects of our very constitution. When handling a drug crime, I investigate the specifics of the situation and craft a defense to help fight for a just outcome. One way to defend against a drug charge is to attack the actual possession of the drug.
“Unwitting possession” refers to someone being in possession of an illegal drug and not knowing it. This could happen in various ways. Perhaps your friend asked you to hold or transport his prescriptions, and you didn’t know that they had been obtained illegally. Maybe they were in your car because a passenger left them behind. Drug possession charges are built around the idea that the person who had the drugs knew what they were doing. If they don’t know the full situation, it is possible for them to be acquitted of the charge.
Lack of Possession
Similar to an unwitting possession, a lack of possession indicates that the drugs were not actually yours. If you share a living space with roommates, and the drugs are found in the living room, it can be argued that they weren’t yours. Perhaps a roommate or even one of their guests swapped the contents without your knowledge. It’s difficult to pinpoint possession in a communal area.
What if the drugs were on your person, you were aware that you had them, but you were being forced to carry them? It’s no secret that the illegal drug trade is dangerous. If you found yourself in a situation where your life was being threatened in order to hold or transport drugs, then you were “under duress.” It’s possible to get sympathy from the court and have your charges dismissed if you were compelled to participate in possessing the drugs.
Above, we mostly discussed how prescription drugs are illegal when they are obtained through illegal means. Almost all of those actions are considered some form of fraud. If you’ve been charged with illegally giving or receiving a prescription, there are defenses we can use to help fight your charge in court.
It’s possible that, through investigation, I can discover that the prescription was legitimate. Maybe the allegations themselves are false, and they were brought about by a bitter rival trying to get someone in trouble. Perhaps the parties involved were unaware that they were doing anything illegal. Just like possession, a big part of any crime is intent. Maybe Bob, our fictional addict, didn’t realize that lying to the doctor was a crime. Maybe, in his mind, he wasn’t lying. Without the drugs, he was experiencing pain, so he told the doctor he was hurting in order to get more drugs.
I have years of experience in criminal defense, and I am here to help defend you in a prescription drug charge. If you need to talk to me, I can schedule a free, no-risk consultation with you. Just call (540) 827-4446 or contact me online.