Can You Get Arrested for Sharing Prescription Drugs?

Imagine this hypothetical scenario. You've been diagnosed with a certain condition, and you take daily prescription medication to help control your symptoms. Your friend hasn't been formally diagnosed by a physician, but seems to suffer from many of the same effects. Feeling bad for your friend, you decide to share a few of your prescription pills, just to see if they help. Unfortunately, this misguided act of compassion could result in criminal charges. In this article, our Philadelphia drug crime attorneys explain Pennsylvania and federal laws about sharing prescribed medication.

The word "drug" makes most people think of substances like heroin, crack, cocaine, and methamphetamine. Yet despite the heavy emphasis our society places on street narcotics, the reality is that prescription drugs are actually abused at much higher rates.

prescription drug possession

The CDC reports that prescription drug sales in the United States have quadrupled since 1999. However, this tremendous increase is not attributable to a greater national prevalence of pain and sickness, which the CDC notes has remained largely unchanged since 1999. The likelier cause is aggressive marketing by the pharmaceutical industry, and in particular, the advent of direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertising (DTCPA), which one 2011 study from Pharmacy & Therapeutics notes has "grown rapidly during the past several decades and is now the most prominent type of health communication that the public encounters."

According to a recent CDC profile on prescription drug overdoses in Pennsylvania, as of 2010, Pennsylvania's fatal overdose rate (15.3 per 100,000 population) was slightly higher than the national average rate (12.4 per 100,000 population). About three quarters of all prescription drug deaths in the U.S. are caused by opioids (prescription pain-killers), such as:

In short, the answer to this question is yes.

In an effort to curb overdose deaths, various laws strictly regulate the circulation and usage of prescription drugs in Pennsylvania and throughout the United States. At the federal level, prescription drugs are governed by the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (21 U.S. Code § 301 et seq.). In particular, 21 U.S. Code § 829 governs the legality of prescription drug use based on the way such substances are scheduled by the Drug Enforcement Administration, or DEA.

Drugs are scheduled according to (1) "the drug's acceptable medical use," and (2) "the drug's abuse or dependency potential." The lower the drug's schedule number, the more severe penalties for violations typically become. Some examples are listed below:

On the federal level, 21 U.S. Code § 829 provides the following:

Drug crimes are frequently prosecuted at the state level, though as we explained in a previous article about federal drug trafficking, there are also certain circumstances under which federal prosecution is possible. Pennsylvania prescription drug laws are consolidated under the Controlled Substances, Drugs, Device, and Cosmetic Act of 1972. In particular, Section 11 of the Act deals specifically with prescription medications.

prescription drug crimes

Parts a, b, and c of Section 11 echo the aforementioned provisions of 21 U.S. Code § 829 with regard to who may dispense medications and how often, if ever, they may be refilled. Additionally, Section 11(f) requires the following text to be printed on the label of each prescription medication:

"Transfer of this drug to anyone other than the patient for whom it was prescribed is illegal."

It couldn't be clearer than that.

As you have learned from this article, both federal and Pennsylvania laws ban the sharing, sale, distribution, and unlawful possession of prescription drugs - even when they are otherwise legal. If someone you love was arrested on prescription drug charges in Philadelphia or elsewhere in the state, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side. To arrange for a free, completely confidential legal consultation, call the attorneys of Krasner & Long at (215) 882-9752.

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