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What Makes Prescription Drugs Illegal?


When we think of controlled substances, we tend to picture hard drugs like cocaine or heroin. In reality, the definition is much broader than that. Your prescription nasal spray with no side effects is a controlled substance. Any drug that’s distribution is tightly regulated is “controlled,” no matter how harmless it is.

There is a lot of talk these days about illegal prescription drugs. The opioid crisis has brought the topic to the forefront of media coverage. Clearly, it’s legal to have your prescription filled. No one ever knocked down your door and arrested you for picking up your insulin. So, where is the line? At what point does a drug go from being perfectly legal to something that gets you arrested? There are several ways in which a legal substance makes that transition.

How the Drugs Were Acquired

A key element in the legality of a prescription drug is how it was obtained. Most illegal acquisition of prescription medications amounts to some form of fraud, which is a crime by itself. Here are some ways that getting prescription drugs becomes illegal.

Lying to Get the Drugs

Purposely falsifying information to obtain prescriptions is illegal. After Jack’s back surgery, the doctors prescribed oxycodone for the pain. Jack needed the pills at first, but he healed quicker than expected. He developed an unfortunate addiction to the pills. Fully aware that he didn’t need the pills anymore, he still visited his doctor regularly, claiming to be in pain. This was the moment Jack broke the law. He knowingly lied for the purposes of getting a prescription.

Changing information on the prescription itself qualifies as lying, too. It might be possible to add a horizontal line to the top of a “10” to make it look like a “70,” for example. Doctors themselves can be in on the crime, writing scripts that they know aren’t needed.

Fake ID

If you use fake identification to acquire drugs, it’s considered to be a crime. Typically, we imagine a fake ID as a card bought from a shifty forger. While that scenario is a reality – and certainly people have used that method to get drugs – falsifying your identity in any way qualifies as using a fake ID.

Forms of fake identification:

  • False address
  • False name
  • Using someone else’s ID/posing as someone else

Impersonation of a Health Professional

Pretending to be in the medical field to acquire drugs is another form of false identification; it’s another form of fraud; and it’s illegal. Perhaps someone found a prescription pad and started writing scripts. Maybe a clever con-artist knows how to call pharmacies and trick them into fulfilling drug requests. Whatever the case, it can put you in jail.

Mislabeling Prescriptions

One trick that people in the illegal drug trade use is putting drugs in mislabeled bottles. For example, someone might find a willing pharmacist who will take money for opioids. Jack goes to the pharmacy to pick up his three, legitimate prescriptions. The pharmacist, however, fills all three bottles with oxycodone. Moreover, she is taking money to overfill painkiller prescriptions. These are forms of illegal mislabeling.

Doctor Shopping

A familiar tactic for painkiller addicts is to “doctor shop,” or visiting multiple doctors for the same prescriptions. Doctor shopping requires careful attention to medical records. Each doctor has to remain ignorant of the other, believing themselves to be the only doctor providing prescriptions.


Getting prescriptions falsely isn’t the only thing that makes them illegal. Once a prescription drug has been obtained illegally, it is now an illegal substance. In the eyes of the law, it is an illegal drug just like street drugs. Possession of illegal drugs, even prescriptions, is a crime by itself.

Intent to Sell

Police can arrest you not only for possessing prescriptions, but also for attempting to sell them. They could catch you in the act. Maybe they ran a sting operation, posing as buyers. Perhaps they just came across a transaction and arrested everyone involved.

Another possibility is that they found someone with illegal prescriptions, and that person also had “indicia of sale.” Essentially, whatever other items were found on the scene may implicate the accused as a seller. They might have scales, baggies, empty bottles, etc. Police will also take the amount of the illegal drug into consideration. If someone has pounds of painkillers and distribution items, it’s a safe bet that they’re selling.


Possession of illegal prescriptions is a misdemeanor. You can be sentenced up to a year in jail with fines up to $1,000. That is for a first offense. As offenses rise, so do the penalties. Multiple offenses mean a higher class of misdemeanor, with more jail time and steeper fines. If someone is arrested three or more times, the charge can become a felony with prison time.

Just like street drugs, selling or an intent to sell is a felony. Felonies come with prison time, not jail. As is the case with possession, multiple offenses will increase the severity of the punishments.

Defenses Against Possession Charges

You don’t have to take a drug charge laying down. Our system is based on the right to a defense, and you should exercise that right. I am Jacqueline Goodman, and I have devoted my career to defending the accused in court. I believe that everyone has the right to representation, no matter the charge.

I can help you craft a reasonable, credible defense against your drug charges. Possession is a common charge you find with drug crimes, so if you’re dealing with such an accusation, here are some arguments we can use in court.

You Were Unaware

It is up to your accusers to prove that you not only had the drugs in your possession, but that you had them with intent. In this case, intent means that you were aware that you had illegal drugs, and you intended to break the law by having them. Intent is often overlooked in arrests and bookings. Cops find you with a bag of painkillers, assume you’re guilty, and the arrest begins.

It’s important for everyone to remember that you are innocent until proven guilty. Simply having the drugs on you doesn’t mean you were aware that you had them. Maybe you borrowed your friend’s coat, and the drugs were already in the breast pocket, completely unknown to you. Perhaps someone on the street saw some cops, panicked, and slipped the drugs into your pocket to make a getaway. Possession of an illegal item doesn’t mean much without your awareness. The legal term for this is “unwitting possession.”

The Drugs Were Not Yours

Just because the drugs were within your reach, it doesn’t mean they belonged to you. What if you have a lot of roommates, and you’re not very close with them? You don’t know what they get up to or where they get their money. It’s hard for the prosecution to pin possession on a single person if the drugs were found in a communal living room. The legal argument you are making here is called “lack of possession.”

This defense works a lot like the unwitting possession defense described above. Even if the drugs were found in the back seat of your car, how can the authorities be sure they belonged to you? Were you giving a ride to a friend who left them in your back seat? Did a bad guy see some cops and ditch his stash in your open window?

You Were Forced to Carry the Drugs

This defense is known as “duress.” The drug trade is full of dangerous, unscrupulous people. Everyone knows that. If you got mixed up with the wrong crowd, you may have been forced to transport drugs. Maybe you were threatened, or maybe the dealers threatened your family. Remember, intent is key to the prosecution and to your defense.

Defenses Against Fraud Charges

As explained above, fraud is the main reason a drug becomes illegal. Possession is a common charge with prescription drugs, but so is the fraud that made them illegal. Here are some ways we can fight that accusation.

The Prescription Was Legitimate

Maybe it isn’t the prescription that was false, maybe it was the accusation. Cops aren’t perfect. In their attempts to follow the paper trail, they could easily have made a mistake. Maybe the accusation was originally made by a bitter rival, trying to get you into trouble. I can investigate the authority’s claims for their legitimacy and find useful inconsistences.

You Were Unaware That Your Actions Were Illegal

Again, it is important for prosecutors to prove intent. Maybe you kept getting painkillers from your doctor because you thought you needed them. You were in pain without them, and you weren’t aware that the pain was coming from withdrawal. We can use that argument in court to show that you truly believed you were on the right side of the law.

If you have been charged with a prescription drug crime, reach out to me today. I am here to defend people in court and fight for their freedom. Free consultations are available, so call (714) 266-3945 or contact me online.

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