According to many experts, and certainly to law enforcement agencies, there is a prescription drug crisis in the United States. Because prescription drugs can be legal, and because they have historically not had the same negative connotation that other drugs, such as heroin or methamphetamine, have had, many people overlook or underestimate the penalties you face if convicted of a prescription drug offense. Because conviction of a prescription drug offense can have a life-altering impact on you, Tennessee criminal defense lawyer explains prescription drug offenses and potential penalties.
The Prescription Drug Crisis
Throughout the 20th century, both the federal government and the individual state governments passed numerous laws making a wide variety of “drugs” illegal for the first time. These “drugs,” formally referred to as “controlled substances,” are classified into schedules, both at the federal and the state level, according to whether or not they have any known medicinal use and their risk of abuse or addition. Some drugs, such as heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine have no known legitimate use and, therefore, are illegal in all forms. Many other controlled substances, however, do have legitimate medical uses. These controlled substances, therefore, are regularly prescribed by physicians to help with things such as anxiety, pain, and insomnia.
Throughout the latter half of the 20th century, a variety of illegal drugs were popular, including marijuana, heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine. As the 20th century came to close, however, a noticeable shift began to occur away from “street drugs” and toward “prescription drugs.” Prescription drugs are controlled substances that are regularly prescribed legally to patients, such as opioids for pain or anti-anxiety drugs used to treat panic attacks. These drugs, though legal when prescribed to a patient and taken as prescribed, become illegal when taken without a prescription and/or when a patient exceeds the dose prescribed by a physician. Because prescription drugs can be legal, and are legally taken by those for whom they are prescribed, there is often a (mistaken) belief that criminal offenses related to these drugs are not as serious, or even that there is no crime at all in possessing or distributing these drugs. The truth, however, is that you could face a lengthy prison sentence for any of a variety of criminal offenses involving prescription drugs.
Tennessee Prescription Drug Offenses
When discussing prescription drug offenses in Tennessee, it is imperative to begin with the understanding that any controlled substance can be illegal and can, therefore, form the basis of criminal charges against you. The fact that a pill was originally prescribed by a physician does not make it legal nor less serious of a “drug” if you are not the person for whom it was prescribed. For example, if your friend gives you one of her pain pills because you twisted an ankle, you both have committed a criminal offense and could be charged and convicted of a drug offense. Tennessee controlled substance offenses are broadly divided into the following five categories. The potential punishment you face if convicted of an offense within each category depends on the type of controlled substance involved with the potential penalties for offenses involving a Schedule I or II substance being considerably harsher than those for a Schedule III, IV, V, or VI substance. Most opioids are a Schedule II substance while most anti-anxiety and anti-depression drugs are a Schedule III or lower substance. In general, you could face the following penalties if convicted of a first offense prescription drug offense:
- Simple possession or casual exchange — up to 15 years for a Schedule I or II substance and up to five years for others.
- Possession with intent – up to 30 years for a Schedule I or II and up to 10 years for a lesser Scheduled substance.
- Sale — up to 30 years for a Schedule I or II and up to 10 years for a lesser Scheduled substance.
- Trafficking – because this is often charged as a federal crime, you would likely be facing penalties in federal court where the Federal Sentencing Guidelines apply.
- Manufacturing – this offense doesn’t usually apply to prescription drugs.
Contact a Tennessee Criminal Defense Lawyer
If you have additional questions or concerns about prescription drug offenses in the State of Tennessee, it is in your best interest to consult with an experienced Tennessee criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Contact the team at Bennett, Michael & Hornsby today by calling 615-898-1560 to schedule your appointment.