Recently in Decatur, an all-too-familiar story played out.
A woman was arrested just outside a pharmacy, where police say she was trying to use a phony prescription in order to purchase narcotics.
Our Birmingham drug crimes defense attorneys understand that the 36-year-old has been charged with attempting to commit a controlled substance crime. This is a violation of Code of Alabama 13A-12-203. Under this law, a person attempts to commit a crime relating to a controlled substance, but is not actually successful. It is punished the same as if the crime had been successful.
In this case, the attempted crime was purchase of a controlled substance. Possession of any controlled substance of Schedules I through V (except personal use marijuana) is a Class C felony, which is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $15,000 fine.
This is no minor matter, and it’s important that those facing charges treat it like the gravely serious issue that it is. If you are arrested for possession, you could be facing years behind bars and a future as a convicted felon. Our goal is to find a way to have the charges either dismissed or significantly reduced, in order to mitigate your penalties in any way possible.
Prescription drug addiction is powerful. Over the last several years, pills have replaced illicit drugs, such as cocaine and heroin, as the most in-demand of illegal substances. It’s estimated that some 200,000 people from Alabama abused prescription drugs last year, according to the state’s health department.
Part of it is a matter of accessibility. These are drugs that are legal when prescribed, as opposed to cocaine or heroin, which usually have to be smuggled in illegally from other countries at high risk.
About 15,000 people annually die from prescription drug overdoses, which is more than triple what it was just 10 years ago. This accounts for more deaths than heroin and cocaine overdoses combined.
In some cases, the medication may be over-prescribed. In other cases, patients are engaging in a practice called “doctor-shopping,” whereby patients seek out multiple physicians to fulfill multiple prescriptions. They then either turn around to abuse or sell these drugs. In many cases, they do this to continue supporting their own habit.
Trafficking in prescription drugs is a Class B felony in Alabama, punishable from 2 to 20 years in prison. Fines can reach up to $30,000.
In May, the Alabama state legislature passed House Bill 150, which expands the use and funding of the Alabama Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, which has been in place since 2006. The new law gives doctors and two of their designated employers the authority to access that database in order to curb doctor shopping practices. The state Medicaid agency will be given access as well.
Anyone who prescribes a controlled substance has to report that prescription to the PDMP. Doctors will be able to easily see whether their patients have been prescribed the same drug elsewhere.
For example, if a patient receives a 90-day supply of Oxycodone and then goes to another doctor 30 days later for another 90-day supply, this would raise a red flag for law enforcement investigation.
A separate measure, House Bill 152, gives law enforcement the authority to prosecute patients who participate in doctor-shopping.
House Bill 151 gives the Board of Medical Examiners the authority to suspend medical licenses or mete out other disciplinary actions against doctors accused of over-prescribing controlled substances.