New York Federal Prescription Drug Offenses
In recent years, the federal prosecution of prescription drug crimes has ballooned as the abuse of oxycodone (e.g., OxyContin, Percocet), hydrocodone (e.g. Vicodin), amphetamine (e.g., Adderall), methylphenidate (e.g. Ritalin), benzodiazepines (e.g. Xanax, Ativan), meperidine (e.g., Demerol) and other addictive medications has skyrocketed. This focus by law enforcement has resulted in the prosecution of many doctors, pharmacists, and other healthcare providers in federal courts.
For any individual, a conviction for the illegal distribution or unauthorized possession of prescription drugs is a life-altering event, with lengthy prison sentences and large fines imposed by courts. For an individual who works in the healthcare or medical fields, however, just the allegation that one has illegally dispensed prescription drugs can result in the loss or suspension of a professional license, career-ending reputational damage, or the costly interruption of one’s business.
Under either scenario, retaining an experienced criminal defense attorney following allegations of committing a federal prescription drug offense in New York may be in your best interests. Hiring a lawyer may prove to be the difference between a prosecutor’s decision not to go forward with a case and a lengthy term of incarceration.
What are the Federal Drug Schedules?
Specifically, pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 841(a), unless otherwise authorized by statute, it is unlawful for anyone to either knowingly or intentionally manufacture, distribute, dispense or possess with intent to do the same, any controlled or counterfeit substance. Each controlled substance is then categorized into one of five schedules which largely determine the punishment that results in the event of a conviction.
At issue there are Schedules II through V that list drugs and other controlled substances for which there is a medically accepted use and some potential for abuse and dependency. A full list of these substances may be found at 21 U.S.C. § 812.
Importantly, while it is legal in the State of New York to purchase marijuana for medicinal purposes from a state-licensed dispensary, marijuana is still considered a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law. Accordingly, any dispensary employee accused of selling marijuana to someone without a proper prescription or outside of a state-licensed store may face federal prosecution for a Schedule I drug offense. Furthermore, under federal sentencing guidelines, the illicit sale or distribution of enough marijuana—whether it is intended for medical use or not—can be punished by several months in jail.
Prosecution for Schedule II Prescription Drug Offenses
Schedule II contains narcotics, chemicals or other substances that have a high potential for abuse and psychological or physical dependence, including hydrocodone, methamphetamine, methadone, hydromorphone, meperidine, oxycodone, fentanyl, Dexedrine, Adderall, and Ritalin. In light of the opioid epidemic, the illicit distribution of Schedule II substances like OxyContin and fentanyl may be met with especially harsh prosecution, making representation from a skilled New York federal defense attorney particularly crucial in prescription drug offense cases.
Pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(C), a conviction for the unauthorized possession, sale or distribution of a Schedule II controlled substance may result in a sentence of up to 20 years imprisonment and a $1 million fine – which is increased to 30 years imprisonment if the defendant has previously been convicted of a felony drug offense. Worse, if serious bodily injury or death occurs from the use of this substance, a minimum term of 20 years imprisonment is imposed upon conviction, and if the defendant possesses a prior felony drug conviction and serious bodily injury or death occurred, the sentence becomes mandatory life imprisonment.
What Could the Consequences Be for Conviction of a Schedule III Prescription Drug Crime?
Schedule III contains drugs, substances, or chemicals with a moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence and a lesser potential for abuse than Schedule II drugs, and includes, for example: codeine, ketamine, anabolic steroids and testosterone. Specifically, any medicinal product that contains up to 90 milligrams of codeine per use is considered a Schedule III controlled substance. Substances like Tylenol with Codeine could be considered Schedule III controlled substances if they are illicitly purchased, distributed, or sold.
A conviction for the possession, sale or unauthorized distribution of a Schedule III controlled substance carries with it a term of imprisonment of up to ten years and a $500,000 fine – which increases to fifteen years imprisonment if death or serious bodily injury resulted from the use of this substance. See 21 U.S.C. 841(b)(1)(E). Should the defendant possess a prior felony drug conviction, the maximum sentence then becomes twenty years imprisonment; and if the defendant possesses a prior felony drug conviction and serious bodily injury or death occurred, the maximum sentence becomes thirty years imprisonment. Id.
What Types of Prescription Drugs Are in Schedule IV?
Schedule IV contains drugs, substances or chemicals with a low potential for abuse and low risk of dependence, including Xanax, Soma, Darvon, Darvocet, Ativan, Talwin, Ambien and Tramadol. A conviction for the possession, sale or unauthorized distribution of a Schedule IV controlled substance carries with it a term of imprisonment of up to five years and a fine of $250,000 – which increases to a maximum term of ten years imprisonment and a $500,000 fine if the defendant possesses a prior felony drug conviction. See 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(2).
Schedule V Prescription Drugs and Criminal Consequences
Finally, Schedule V contains substances or chemicals that have the lowest risk for abuse and dependence. These drugs are commonly used for antidiarrheal, antitussive, and analgesic purposes, and include cough preparations with less than 200 milligrams of codeine per 100 milliliters (Robitussin AC), Lomotil, Motofen, Lyrica, Parepectolin.
Generally, the possession or illicit sale of Schedule V substances is not prosecuted as harshly because, while they can be components in the creation of more serious drugs like methamphetamine, they are not particularly dangerous in and of themselves. However, if someone possesses or sells Schedule V prescription drugs together with other pieces of paraphernalia or equipment that could be used for narcotics production, federal charges may be much more severe.
A conviction for the possession, sale or unauthorized distribution of a Schedule V controlled substance carries with it a term of imprisonment of up to one year and a fine of $100,000 – which increases to a maximum term of four years imprisonment and a $200,000 fine if the defendant possesses a prior felony drug conviction. See 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(3).
Speak with a New York Federal Attorney About Prescription Drug Charges
If you have been accused of a New York federal prescription drug offense, you should hire a top defense lawyer to defend you. Retaining a lawyer who has a wealth of experience with these charges, such as those at our office, will ensure that every viable defense is explored and utilized. Contact us today for a free consultation.