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Mishandling Your Prescription Drugs Can Be Criminal and Even Deadly

Abusing prescription drugs is a serious, even deadly, matter. Attorney Mark Powers examines the growing problem of overdose deaths and has advice for those taking prescription medications.

On the surface, it may seem pretty harmless.  A guy we’ll call Joe decides to help out his girlfriend, Vicki, who is suffering from some lower back pain.  Joe goes to his medicine chest and gives her some Vicodin or Oxycontin to help her relieve the pain until she can see her doctor.

There are now two big problems in play.  First, Joe has now delivered a controlled substance which is a felony. And second, Vicky is now in possession of a narcotic which is also a felony. You might have entirely honorable intentions to help a friend but you have only added to a problem we are seeing at an alarmingly increasing rate, not only in the system but all over the country. 

The consequences of playing fast and free with your own prescription medications can not only lead to criminal charges, they can be deadly. We have seen an absolute explosion of drug overdoses resulting in death, usually from opiate drugs.

Generally, it happens when legally prescribed medications are no longer available. Perhaps the doctor discontinues a prescription because he suspects the patient may have an addiction.  The patient, in turn, tries to obtain the drug illegally.

So, where do people go for these drugs? They can get illegally transferred opiates from people who actually have the intention of selling these controlled substances illegally. If that supply runs dry, the buyer turns to street drug opiates with heroin being the most obvious choice. This is where we’ve seen the overdose explosion because people don’t know what they’re doing in terms of the content of the drug.  Many times they will mix heroin with other controlled substances.

The reality is, if someone delivers or gives a controlled substance and the delivery becomes a substantial factor in causing the death of another, we’re now talking reckless homicide.

In Waukesha County, the Medical Examiner’s office has reported five fatal heroin overdoses in 2010, three in 2009 and seven in 2008.  But that’s only part of the story because many other cases are still under investigation and awaiting toxicology results.

If you are taking these kinds of drugs with legal prescriptions, here are some Dos and Don’ts:

  • Use only the medications that have been prescribed to you with the advice and consent of your doctor for the drug’s intended purpose.
  • Keep your prescriptions up to date.
  • Don’t self-diagnose and self-medicate.
  • Get rid of old prescription drugs you are no longer using.  There are plenty of opportunities to dispose of prescription drugs. Check out the DFC (Drug Free Communities) collection schedule in your area.

You never want to give access to these drugs for others to use in an improper manner. Old meds lying around the house can also be tempting for younger kids and their friends. Rummaging through grandma or grandpa’s medicine chest is a popular activity with kids using these drugs or selling them.

Again, use these prescription drugs as minimally as possible and only under the guidance of your physician. Never give or take a prescription medication from someone other than a legally prescribed drug from a pharmacist

Aside from the health risks, always remember that misusing prescription drugs has harsh criminal implications. Distributing controlled substances is a felony with punishment depending on how much of the drug is involved. If someone dies as a result of your actions, it’s reckless homicide.  Being in possession of a schedule 1 or schedule II narcotic without a valid prescription is a felony. 

Prescription drug abuse is very serious business. All-too-often, it’s literally a matter of life or death.

 About Attorney Mark Powers
Attorney Mark Powers is a partner at the criminal defense law firm of Huppertz & Powers, S.C. in Waukesha. Previously, Powers served as an Assistant District Attorney with the Waukesha County District Attorney's office as well as a municipal judge in North Prairie. He currently focuses in the area of criminal defense, and has handled many cases involving operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated, domestic disputes, and drug offenses.

Powers attended Valparaiso University School of Law, where he received his Juris Doctorate. Prior to law school, Mark attended the University of Wisconsin, Lacrosse where he received his bachelor of science in Political Science.

For more information, please visit www.waukeshacriminalattorneys.com.

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Mark Powers August 24, 2012 at 02:59 PM
Mike, you hit the nail on the head! People seem to think that the transfer of prescription drugs is, "no big deal." It's a felony! Those drugs can kill people-that's why a prescription is required-good example, and thanks for the comments.
Randy1949 August 24, 2012 at 03:18 PM
"Perhaps the doctor discontinues a prescription because he suspects the patient may have an addiction. The patient, in turn, tries to obtain the drug illegally." Which would confirm the patient has a dependence. Sometimes, rarely, the patient is indeed suffering from intractable chronic pain, but that's rare.
vocal local 1 August 24, 2012 at 07:42 PM
Mr. Powers. I don't have a problem with borrowing a prescription drug for a legitimate need to avoid high priced Emergency Rooms for example. But this is a felony? How smart is that? We need more people in Jails? I also have a major problem with the manner in which physicians are handing out pain and nut pills from the benzodiaphine (spelling) family: Zanax, valium, diazapam, larazapam on and on; the psychotropic, and mind altering drugs to kids who can't sit still: ADHD and the courts ORDERING with threat of incarceration to the parents who object. But that’s all legal and just? Please tell me if one is on any type of depression or bi-polar meds; can they legally get a license for conceal/carry? Doctors who addict should not be allowed to simply QUIT. Further, I would not advise discarding expensive medications. Pills will keep for years. But I do agree that your family medicine cabinet is not the best storage place in the home. Doctors are not allowed to prescribe heroin in the USA. Cancer patients are denied the Brampton mix but the kids on the streets sure don't have any trouble finding heroin now do they? More money in the heroin trade than oil. Interesting that was the only big market commodity Afaganistan produced that the Taliban made illegal when they were in power if the farmers grew poppies they'd cut off their hand. The USA invaded. Immediately the farmers were back in business. 80% comes to the USA now that the Colombian Cocaine trade with the US fell through.
Fat Lester August 24, 2012 at 11:36 PM
As evidenced by my first-ever blog post (published exclusively here on Patch), this problem effects not only those who are addicted to the drugs themselves, but also their newborn and even unborn babies (in circumstances in which the addicted individual is a pregnant female). The URL for the post is as follows: http://wauwatosa.patch.com/blog_posts/500-increase-in-babies-born-addicted-to-drugs-in-one-decade There was an article appearing in the AP last week focusing on the severity of the problem within the state of Florida, which is apparently the nation's capitol of prescription drug abuse.
vocal local 1 August 25, 2012 at 09:23 AM
Mr. Powers or anyone out there that knows the answer please answer the question: Can a person on mental health medications obtain a conceal/carry permit?

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