Abuse of legal prescription drugs in Birmingham, throughout Alabama and across the country is leading to hoards of criminal charges, as officials crack down.
In fact, Birmingham criminal defense lawyers know that law enforcement leaders from across the state met in our city recently for a two-day training session regarding how to investigate prescription drug crimes, including identification of medication, the difference between legal and illegal prescriptions, prescription diversion fraud and how to handle cases of pharmacy theft and pharmaceutical counterfeiting.
Top police officials told The Birmingham News that this area in particular has a huge problem with Oxycontin and Dilaudid, powerful and sought-after painkillers. Police have said that their approach to these cases is changing with the realization that when one person is found with illegal prescriptions, that’s usually only a scratch on the surface. What they are finding more and more are sophisticated rings of individuals operating to procure, steal or otherwise obtain legal drugs for illegal purposes.
Our Birmingham criminal defense lawyers know that this is noteworthy because it could mean the difference between a simple drug possession charge and a drug trafficking charge – with huge variances in jail time and other penalties.
While the gathering was sponsored by the Birmingham Police Department, one of the trainers was an agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigations in New York. This is worth noting because a recent prescription drug bust in New York City had actually revealed a spider web of connections to Alabama.
NBC reported last month that nearly 50 people were arrested for their involvement in a huge prescription drug diversion fraud ring that reportedly cost Medicaid tens of millions of dollars. The defendants were from New York, New Jersey, Alabama and five other states. They have been charged federally by the FBI Health Care Fraud Task Force with wire fraud, mail fraud and Medicaid fraud.
The defendants are accused of working out an elaborate plan to purchase legally-prescribed medications from rightful Medicare recipients. Those second-hand drugs were then sold to what are known as “aggregators,” or high-level “collectors.” Those individuals would then re-sell the drugs through various channels into Alabama, Florida, Texas, Nevada and Utah. Then after that, the drugs were re-sold to pharmacies and wholesale drug companies across the country. In this case, the medications included those used to treat asthma, schizophrenia and AIDS. While not widely abused to any extent, these drugs are extremely expensive, hence their high resale value.
The problem for consumers, officials say, is that the drugs aren’t properly regulated, may have been improperly stored, treated or expired.
This diversion is a different kind of problem compared to the ones that are typically found with painkiller prescriptions. Usually in the latter cases, individuals will “doctor shop” to find multiple physicians who will write prescriptions for the same painkiller. Those drugs are then either directly abused by the individual or resold to smaller dealers for resale on the streets.
An arrest for a drug crime in Alabama can potentially result in years behind bars, so it’s critical that as soon as possible after your arrest, you hire an experienced criminal defense lawyer.