Doctors prescribe certain medications to their patients to help them heal or to remedy the symptoms of chronic illnesses as part of the American healthcare system. The types of medications prescribed range from ear drops to pain medications and beyond, but each prescription is unique to a specific patient and intended to help them with their specific health issue. In some instances, people decide to share their prescription medication with another person having a similar health issue, however, this can be dangerous. Sharing medication with someone it is not intended for can have severe legal and physical consequences.
How Are Prescription Medications Classified?
In the United States, prescription drugs are classified as controlled substances and non-controlled substances. Controlled substances are associated with addiction and other risks that non-controlled substances do not carry. Controlled substances are also more highly restricted and prescribed with less frequency than non-controlled substances. Both types of medications can be harmful if used improperly.
Controlled substances are classified by schedules, with Schedule 1 substances being the most dangerous and Schedule 5 being the least dangerous. Here’s how controlled drug schedules break down and some examples of medications in each schedule:
- Schedule 1: Schedule 1 drugs are not authorized for medical use in the United States, and therefore cannot be prescribed by a doctor. Such substances include heroin and LSD.
- Schedule 2: Schedule 2 drugs are considered the most likely to put a patient at risk of developing an addiction. Morphine, Vicodin, Dilaudid, and OxyContin are all Schedule 2 drugs.
- Schedule 3: Schedule 3 drugs are prescribed more frequently and are less likely to lead a patient to addiction than Schedule 2 drugs, but more so than Schedules 4 and 5. Suboxone and any form of aspirin or acetaminophen mixed with codeine are Schedule 3 drugs.
- Schedule 4: A person using Schedule 4 substances as directed is at a very low risk of becoming addicted. Xanax, Klonopin, and Ativan are schedule 4 drugs.
- Schedule 5: Schedule 5 drugs present very little risk of addiction when used as prescribed. Cough medicine with codeine is an example.
The type of drug someone is asking you for or that you are considering giving to someone may color your final decision. Sharing controlled substances with anyone is never a good idea.
Why is Sharing Prescribed Controlled Substances Dangerous?
When someone is prescribed a controlled substance such as Vicodin or suboxone, their doctor is giving them access to the drug because it is essential for their well-being, either temporarily or permanently. When a doctor prescribes a medication, they take the specific information about the patient into account, including their weight, medical history, current health issues, family history, allergies, and more. Prescriptions are tailored to each individual patient and are only intended to work for the patient they were given to.
When someone shares a prescription for a controlled substance, such as a painkiller, with someone who has not been prescribed the same medication, they are introducing that person to a potentially addictive substance and could be exposing them to physical harm if the dose is not appropriate for them. They are also exposing that person to potential legal trouble. Consider a prescription for a controlled substance a permission slip from a licensed professional to possess and use medications that would be illegal to possess otherwise.
Could There Be Legal Consequences for Sharing Prescription Drugs?
Sharing prescription drugs, especially controlled substances, can lead to severe legal consequences for both the person with the prescription and the person accepting the controlled drug. Anyone who accepts prescription medication from another person, even if they have a prescription for the same medication, could be subject to a conviction for illegal possession of a drug.
Wisconsin has four different categories of prescription drugs that are most likely to carry penalties for possessing them illegally:
- Schedule 1 and Schedule 2 narcotics: These drugs are only available by prescription, and they are highly addictive. Possessing these drugs illegally is a Class I felony in Wisconsin, and the consequences of such a charge can include up to 3 and a half years in prison.
- Amphetamines: Amphetamines are drugs that are primarily prescribed for people with ADHD. An example of an amphetamine would be Adderall, or Ritalin. The first time someone is caught possessing one of these drugs illegally, they could receive a jail sentence of up to one year and a fine of up to $5000.
- Non-narcotics: These are drugs that are dangerous to share and can also be addictive, but they are not formally considered to be narcotics. An example would be Xanax. Being caught illegally possessing these drugs could lead to a 30-day jail sentence and is a misdemeanor.
The risk of forming an addiction or facing legal trouble is never worth accepting a drug that has been prescribed to another person. However, the people who illegally possess a drug given to them are not the only ones who could face legal issues. Anyone caught providing another person with drugs they are not prescribed could be tried for possession with intent to distribute. The penalties are higher for these people:
- Schedule 1 and Schedule 2 narcotics: Anyone convicted of possessing Schedule 1 or Schedule 2 narcotics with the intent to distribute will be sentenced to 15 years in prison. They will also receive a $50,000 fine. This sentence is the same for all people with this conviction regardless of how much of the drug they possessed.
- Amphetamines: If caught with three or less grams, someone convicted of possessing amphetamines with the intent to distribute them will receive 12 and a half years in prison. The penalties for this crime can go up to a 40-year prison sentence for possessing 50 or more grams.
- Non-narcotics: Similar to Schedule 1 and Schedule 2 narcotics, the penalties for possessing non-narcotics with the intent to distribute them is the same regardless of the amount of the drug in possession. The consequences are 6 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Are There Social Consequences to an Illegal Drug Possession Conviction?
Although the legal consequences of illegally possessing drugs can be bad enough, there are social consequences to such convictions as well. These are punishments that can impact someone’s life once they have served their sentence, and these impacts can last forever. Some of the social consequences of illegal drug possession include:
- Ineligibility for certain jobs (which becomes worse if the drug charge is a felony)
- Permanent criminal record that cannot be removed
- Changes to their custodial rights if they are a parent
- Changes in their rights to own firearms if their drug charge is a felony
Are There Special Legal Avenues for Drug Charges?
In cases where there is solid proof that someone possessed drugs illegally or possessed them with the intent to provide them to other people, it can be difficult to fight the charges against them. However, there are some courts that are specialized in working with people with drug charges. Drug courts focus on rehabilitating people with drug charges and providing them with treatment options rather than severe punishments. These courts work with the intention of helping people who have drug issues get their life in order without spending time and resources in the court system.
Contact an Attorney Today
If you have been accused of illegally possessing a drug or possessing a drug with the intent to distribute it, contact the Law Offices of Christopher J. Cherella today. Attorney Cherella has over 20 years of experience working on criminal cases and provides his clients with personalized, attentive, and empathetic legal support. His experience has made him very familiar with both the state and federal court process, as well as what steps to take to work towards the best result for his clients. Contact him today at (414) 882-8382 or via his contact page.