Prescription drugs have many necessary and legitimate uses for patients with a number of illnesses and medical conditions. However, prescription drugs are highly regulated in California. The unlawful use, possession, or sale of prescription drugs are treated similarly to illegal narcotics. Altering, misusing, or forgery of drug prescriptions are also criminal offenses in California. If you or a loved one has been charged with prescription drug violations contact an experienced East Bay prescription drug crime attorney.
California Prescription Drug Violations
Prescription drugs are regulated by a number of criminal codes in California. This includes prohibitions against the unlawful use, possession, possession with intent to distribute, sale, or trafficking in controlled substances. The unlawful use, forgery, or alteration of a prescription for a controlled substance is also subject to criminal charges.
The charges, penalties, and sentencing for prescription drug violations may depend on a number of factors, including the extent of prescription drug fraud, criminal history, other criminal activity, and whether any victims suffered an injury.
Prescription Drug Forgery
Forgery or alteration of a prescription is a violation of California Health and Safety Code 11368. Every person who forges, alters, issues, or provides an altered prescription may be charged with a misdemeanor or felony prescription drug offense. This includes the use of a prescription bearing a forged or fake signature for any narcotic drug. Possession of a narcotic drug obtained through use of forged or fake prescription is also a criminal offense. Penalties include imprisonment in the county jail for a minimum of 6 months and a fine.
Altering a Prescription
Forgery or alteration of a prescription is also a violation of California Business and Professions Code 4324. Every person who signs the name of another, falsely makes, alters, forges, or uses any prescription for any drug is guilty of forgery. Prescription alteration and possession of a prescription drug obtained by use of a forged prescription is a violation of the Business and Professions code and is punishable by imprisonment for up to one year in jail.
Doctor shopping is the term for visiting multiple physicians in order to obtain multiple prescriptions. Patients may visit multiple doctors for a legitimate ailment or illness or make false statements about pain or an injury to get a prescription. Doctor shopping to obtain multiple prescriptions can be a form of prescription drug fraud.
Anyone who obtains, attempts to obtain, or procures a controlled substance by fraud, deceit, misrepresentation, or concealment of a material fact is guilty of prescription drug fraud under California Health and Safety Code 11173. Prescription drug fraud can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony. As a felony, prescription drug fraud can lead to a penalty of up to three years in prison.
Controlled Substances Act
Controlled substances are classified according to schedule. Under the U.S. Controlled Substances Act (CSA), drugs are categorized based on their medical uses, the potential for abuse, and safety level. There are 5 schedules of controlled substances under the CSA. Prescription medication may be classified as Schedule II through V
- Schedule II drugs are considered to have a high potential for abuse as well as a currently accepted medical value. These include many painkillers and other narcotics, such as Percocet, fentanyl, morphine, Dilaudid, Demerol, and OxyContin.
- Schedule III drugs are considered to have a currently accepted medical use with some potential for abuse but are considered safer than Schedule II drugs. These include commonly prescribed steroids, antidepressants, and appetite suppressants.
- Schedule IV and V drugs are considered to have a lower potential for abuse than the other schedule drugs. These include a number of common prescription drugs, like Xanax, Valium, Ambien, Ativan, and prescription cough medicine.
Prescription Drug Possession
Possession of a controlled substance without a prescription is a violation of California Health and Safety Code 11350. Every person who possesses any controlled substance or narcotic drug without a valid prescription may be charged with drug possession and could face imprisonment and fines California law.
The penalties for drug possession depend on the quantity of the controlled substance involved. Small amounts of a controlled substance may be seen as possession for personal use. However, possession of larger amounts of an unlawful prescription drug may be charged as possession with the intent to distribute. The larger the quantity of drugs, the greater the penalties may be.
Every person who possesses any controlled substance shall be punished by imprisonment for up to 1 year in prison. If the court grants probation, the penalties could include a fine of up to $1,000 for a first offense and $2,000 for a second offense. A judge may also require community service in lieu of the fine.
In some cases, a first-time offense for prescription drug possession may be eligible for a drug diversion program to avoid a criminal record. A Deferred Entry of Judgment program allows some first-time prescription drug offenders to avoid prosecution if they complete a drug rehabilitation program. After successful completion of the program, a judge may dismiss the possession charges. Other options include an alternative drug penalty program to avoid going to jail.
Defenses to Prescription Drug Charges
There are a number of possible defenses to prescription drug possession charges. It may be a defense to drug possession charges if the person in possession of the controlled substance had the express authorization of the prescription holder or was delivering the medication to the prescription holder.
Other possible defenses include suppressing the evidence because of an unlawful search or seizure. If the police do not have the probable cause to arrest an individual or do not have consent to a search, the police may be violating an individual's constitutional rights through an unlawful search.
East Bay Prescription Drug Crime Attorney
Lynn Gorelick has more than 30 years of criminal defense experience defending her clients facing prescription drug charges. She understands how to approach the individual facts of each case for the greatest chance of success, keeping her clients out of jail and maintaining a clean record. Whether you are arrested in Oakland, Richmond or anywhere else in Contra Costa or Alameda Counties, contact Lynn Gorelick understands you do not have to plead guilty just because you were arrested.