From 2007 to 2012, over 40 percent of deaths caused by drug overdose in Maryland included the use of at least one prescription opioid. The consequences of overdose - whether intentional or accidental - are obvious. But there are also legal consequences when it comes to the use, distribution, purchase, sale and possession of prescription drugs - even when the prescription is your own.
The Controlled Substances Act classifies drugs by schedule:
- Schedule I drugs are street drugs like heroin.
- Schedule II drugs include oxycontin, percocet, fentanyl and others.
- Schedule III includes hydrocodone (Vicodin), Tylenol with Codeine, ketamine and anabolic steroids.
- Schedule IV drugs are those not usually associated with abuse such as Xanax, Ativan, and Valium.
- Cough medicine with a low amount of codeine is considered a Schedule V.
Penalties for illegal possession of prescription drugs
Penalties for prescription drug offenses range from misdemeanors to felonies, depending on the specific crime and the classification of the drug involved.
If you are caught with even one pill within your control without a valid prescription you can be charged with a crime. According to the Maryland State Commission on Criminal Sentencing Policy (MSCCSP), the minimum sentence for possession, obtaining by fraud or label destruction of a prescription drug is $1,000. The maximum possible sentence for possession is four years incarceration and a $25,000 fine.
Penalties for selling prescription drugs
Other crimes include buying or selling prescription drugs. MSCCSP sentencing guidelines for the distribution or intent to distribute prescription drugs include a maximum of 18 months in jail and a $1,000 fine for a first offense. Subsequent crimes of the same nature carry the same sentencing guidelines, but are considered more serious and are subject to increased penalty including fines up to $100,000.
Doctor shopping is illegal
Doctor shopping is also a crime. It involves going to various doctors to try to obtain additional prescriptions for the same or similar drugs. Maryland's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH) has enacted a prescription drug monitoring program that tracks and provides clear records of doctor shopping in an attempt to catch and stop this behavior.
If you've been charged with a prescription drug crime, contact a lawyer
Because every case is different and sentencing guidelines are specific, you should seek legal counsel immediately if you have been charged with a crime related to prescription drugs. An experienced attorney will make sure proper law enforcement procedures have been followed, and may even be able to have your charges dismissed or reduced.