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Prescription drugs are not legal for everyone, just the people to whom they are prescribed and only in the amounts allowed by the prescription. In other words, you can go to jail, pay fines, and be convicted for crimes (some of which are ultimately subject to a prison sentence) for abuse, distribution, or otherwise unauthorized use of prescription drugs.
Not every state has a separate statute to address prescription drug use in the criminal context. But they do all punish illegal drug use, which includes illicit prescription drug distribution and possession. So though it feels like no big deal to pop a pill from someone else's medicine cabinet or pill bottle, it can get you in a lot of trouble.
Pain Med Mania
There may have been a time when prescription drug abuse was taken with a grain of salt, perhaps seen as less criminal somehow than the purchase of a controlled substance on the streets, like cocaine. But in some states, a mania for pain medications quickly developed and spread beyond those in physical pain to those in existential pain or simply in search of recreational drugs.
With this appetite for pain meds came a new kind of business. In Florida, for example, there are numerous pain clinics prescribing medication to patients and they have been dubbed "pill mills." Just this month, an elderly West Palm Beach doctor was sentenced on a felony drug trafficking charge and a middle-aged "pill mill king" was sentenced to 20 years in prison for the prescription drug overdose of another man.
Possession, Distribution, and Use Crimes
As you can see, there are many ways to get in trouble for prescription medication abuse. Whether you are a doctor, a dealer, or a person looking for pills that have not been legitimately prescribed, you can be charged with a crime for possession, distribution, or use of medications in an illegitimate manner. Prosecutors are well aware of the prevalence of prescription drug use and are not fooled by claims that a medication is legal for a particular patient just because it was manufactured in a legal context.
Charges arising from possession of prescription pills can arise in a range of contexts -- just as a search of your car in the past might have yielded a bag of marijuana that landed you in jail, so today will a sweep and a peek at a pill bottle. Do not assume that police don't know what you're doing. The drugs may have changed but the system is the same and you can still get in trouble.
If you or someone you know has been accused of a crime -- whether associated with prescription drugs or otherwise -- speak to a criminal defense attorney today. Many lawyers consult for free or a minimal fee and will be happy to assess your case.