Prescription Drug Crimes & Charges in Baton Rouge, LA
Abuse and misuse of prescription drugs are major concerns in criminal law. Drugs that were commonly prescribed only a few years ago for pain relief and anxiety are now being restricted, by law and policy, to reduce addiction, overdoses, and crime related to prescription drugs.
What is a Controlled Substance?
Controlled substances are drugs, or sometimes components and precursors of drugs, which are on the Federal Drug Administration’s chart of controlled substances. The State of Louisiana (and almost every other state) has adopted parallel or identical charts of controlled substances and a series of penalties that are similar to the Federal legal structure.
The Schedules are ranked from Schedule I, which have “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse,” down to Schedule V, which are considered commonplace in medical use and have a relatively low potential for abuse. In general, the higher the schedule, the higher the penalties, and/or the more likely it is that a person caught with such substances will be charged with a felony, as opposed to a misdemeanor, and so on.
Federal law makes it a crime to manufacture, distribute, or to possess with intent to distribute any of the scheduled drugs (and various components). The penalties under Federal law are mainly dictated by the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which are found in an 800-page manual that scores everything on a point system, assessed, and used as a baseline, from which it can also be varied. Federal law also provides a series of mandatory minimum sentences. For example, a dope charge might be a 0-20, 5-40, or 10-life charge, depending on the type of drug and quantity involved. A person with prior distribution convictions can have his or her sentence enhanced to increase the mandatory minimum or to impose an automatic life sentence. (See 21 USC 841 and following, United States Sentencing Guidelines)
The Federal government generally doesn’t bother prosecuting simple possession charges, leaving that to the state authorities, unless it’s part of another case. People who are arrested and charged by the Feds for being a felon in possession of a firearm who happen to have some drugs at the residence may also get a simple possession charge. If that person is suspected of being a distributor, it’ll mean an enhancement of both charges to ensure stacking mandatory minimums. (See 18 USC 924)
Schedule I Controlled Substances
Examples: LSD, marijuana, ecstasy, Quaaludes (methaqualone), peyote, and heroin.
The DEA says these are drugs with a high potential for abuse, high potential for severe psychological and/or physical dependence, and no generally accepted medical uses.
Manufacturing, distributing or possessing with intent to distribute Schedule I drugs has penalties under Louisiana law of 10-50 or 5-30 years, with variations and enhancements depending on the type of drug. Marijuana has lower penalties, in general, and is treated separately.
Simple possession of these drugs ranges from 4-10 years, 5-20 years, or 0-10 years, again with variations and enhancements for the type of drug, and the quantity involved.
According to the DEA, reasonable people might debate the addictive qualities of marijuana or some of the hallucinogens.
Schedule II Controlled Substances
Examples: Vicodin, Cocaine, methamphetamine, Dilaudid, Demerol, Fentanyl, Oxycontin, Percocet, morphine, opium, codeine, and methadone.
According to the DEA, these are drugs with a high potential for abuse, with use potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence. These drugs are also considered dangerous, but most have accepted medical uses.
Louisiana law provides that manufacturing, distributing, or possessing with intent to distribute Schedule II drugs is 2-30 years, 0-2 years, 10-30 years, or 0-10 years, depending on the type of drug and quantity (generally higher for methamphetamine, cocaine, or cocaine base (“crack cocaine”). If a child under twelve is present in a home where the dealing or manufacturing is going on, the mandatory minimum increases to fifteen years. Simple possession is usually 0-5 years, but large quantities for personal use may increase that penalty.
Schedule III Controlled Substances
Examples: Tylenol with Codeine (may be III or IV, depending on strength), ketamine, anabolic steroids, testosterone, Benzphetamine, Amobarbital, Nalorphine.
The DEA makes this classification by determining that it has less potential for abuse than Schedule I or II substances, that it has currently accepted medical use, and that abuse of the drug may lead to moderate or low physical dependence or high psychological dependence.
Louisiana law provides penalties of up to 10 years for manufacture, distribution, or possession with intent to distribute Schedule III drugs, and up to 5 years for simple possession.
Schedule IV Controlled Substances
Examples: Xanax (Alprazolam), Soma, Darvon, Darvocet, Valium (Diazepam), Ativan, Talwin, Ambien, Tramadol, Chloral Hydrate (“knockout drops”)
Schedule IV is defined by the DEA as lower in abuse potential than Schedule I, II, or III, that it is a currently accepted medical use, and abuse of the drug may lead to limited physical dependence or psychological dependence, compared to the drugs in Schedule III.
Louisiana law provides penalties of up to 5 years for manufacture, distribution, or possession with intent to distribute Schedule IV drugs, and up to 5 years for simple possession. Flunitrazepam gets up to 10 years.
Schedule V Controlled Substances
Examples: low codeine-content cough syrup, such as Robitussin AC or Phenergan with Codeine, Lyrica (Pregabalin), and various others.
Schedule V is defined by DEA as lower in abuse potential than Schedules I-IV, it has a currently accepted medical use, and that abuse of the drug may lead to limited physical dependence or psychological dependence, compared to drugs in Schedule IV. Louisiana law provides penalties of up to five years for manufacture, distribution, or possession with intent to distribute Schedule V drugs, and up to five years for simple possession with intent to distribute Schedule V drugs and up to five years for simple possession. (NOTE: See La. R.S. 40:961 and following for detailed information on drug charges)
Prescription Drug Fraud
Obtaining prescription drugs through any of the following methods are considered crimes under state and federal law:
- Doctor shopping
- Modifying or forging prescriptions
- Stealing a doctor’s prescription pad to write unauthorized prescriptions
- Any deceptive or fraudulent practices
It is illegal for pharmacists to sell schedule drugs to a person without a prescription. It is also against the law for doctors, dentists, veterinarians, and others licensed by the state and/or DEA to distribute schedule drugs without having a medically valid reason for prescribing or without keeping proper records. Individuals who go about seeking prescription drugs by fraud can face up to five years in prison under Louisiana law. (La. R.S. 40:971) This particular crime is also known around the courthouse as “obtaining CDS by fraud” and is a fairly common charge. Even when it’s incomplete, attempting an obtaining CDS by fraud charge can carry up to two and a half years in prison. Federal law provides for up to four years of incarceration or ten years if it’s related to methamphetamine. An obtaining CDS fraud charge may be combined with other fraud statutes depending on the means of misrepresentation to get the controlled substances. (21 USC 843)
Is Doctor Shopping Illegal?
Doctor shopping is going to multiple doctors with the same or similar diagnosis to get multiple prescriptions for controlled substances. Doctor shopping occurs most when people are searching for multiple pain and attention deficit disorder (ADD) medications, which have high resale street value. When done intentionally, the purpose is to get lots of prescriptions, but it can be accidentally or carelessly, which isn’t a criminal act.
The Prescription Monitoring Program (PMP) is a statewide database of doctors, patients, and prescriptions, which is accessible to:
- And their licensing boards.
The program makes doctor shopping harder and gives providers and vendors immediate access to prescription records. It also discourages people to use false or stolen identities to do their CDS fraud (which invites an additional round of charges for identity theft). Law enforcement also has access to the PMP, but under the restrictions of HIPPAA and State privacy laws, so it requires a warrant.
There is no set number of prescriptions or doctors that have to be visited to qualify. The more doctors, and the more prescriptions, the more likely it is to be a criminal charge. Likewise, the longer it goes on without detection, the more severe the charges will be. The penalties are the same as obtaining CDS by fraud, and the more elaborate the scheme, the more likely it is to generate additional charges.
When people think about the distribution of narcotics, they tend to think of drug dealers on television or in the movies with fancy cars and outfits. Although those people exist, there’s only a handful of them in any given community. Most drug dealers are addicts themselves, hustling to make a bit of money or shave a bit of dope off the top for themselves as the middleman in a deal.
Drug dealers can be the old man at the burger shack, collecting prescription drugs from the neighbors and reselling them at a markup to people who know where to go. A conspiracy to obtain CDS by fraud might be charged against a woman and her adult daughter with fibromyalgia, who carelessly go to too many doctors. Charges might be levied against a kid who steals a bottle of pills from his or her parents, and then gives them away for free at a party – you don’t have to receive value in the transaction to make it distribution, just handing away pills that you can’t legally prescribe is all it takes.
Defense Attorney for Your Prescription Drug Charges
When the state or federal government accuses a person of obtaining CDS by fraud, or improperly distributing Schedule narcotics, the first thing that person should do is refuse to cooperate, then call an experienced drug defense attorney, like Joseph K. Scott. Mr. Scott has defended dozens of federal drug cases and prosecuted a hundred or more.
Reviewing the circumstances of the arrest, the alleged evidence against the defendant, and other factors, Baton Rouge drug defense attorney, Joseph K. Scott, III, will evaluate the case against you and give you an honest answer about how to maximize your liberty. Whether it’s a case that can be resolved by a motion to suppress, negotiated plea, or fighting to the death at trial, the experience and expertise that Joseph Scott brings to your drug case is a serious advantage for the defendant.