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Drug abuse and addiction aren't limited to illicit drugs like crack and heroin -- more and more people every year become addicted to prescription drugs. And like illegal drug abuse, abusing prescription medications can lead to serious criminal penalties.
Fines and potential jail time can vary, depending on the drug possession laws in your state. Here's an overview of the criminal penalties associated with prescription drug abuse.
Different states treat drug possession differently. While some states, like Alabama and Delaware, have specific statutes addressing prescription drug possession, most states classify prescription drugs as controlled substances and prohibit their possession without a prescription. Either way, the penalties for prescription drug possession often mirror those for illegal drugs like marijuana, and will generally depend on the amount of drugs involved and the person's criminal history.
First time prescription drug possession convictions are often misdemeanors, with fines up to $1,000 and jail terms up to one year. While some jurisdictions may offer deferred sentencing or community service for first-time offenders, defendants with multiple convictions or a long history of drug abuse may face higher fines and longer prison sentences. Many states have enacted mandatory minimum sentences for drug convictions, which leave judges with less freedom to adjust the possible penalties.
Many jurisdictions are setting up specialized drug courts to deal with drug addiction, abuse, and possession. The goal is to avoid treating addiction with incarceration and many courts will try to steer nonviolent drug offenders into addiction treatment programs rather than prison terms. Whether these programs are available will depend on where you live and the specific charges you face.
Judges in drug courts often have more freedom to craft penalties for prescription drug possession and can set up rehab programs, probation conditions, and monitoring systems to enforce sentences.
If you've been charged with a prescription drug offense, you should consult with an experienced drug crime attorney as soon as possible.