Prescription Drug Abuse on the Rise
When people think of drug crimes or drug abuse, they typically picture illicit substances bought on the “street” like cocaine, heroin or methamphetamine. Although these substances make up a large portion of drug-related criminal offences, an increasing number of Canadians are abusing, and being charged with illegally possessing or trafficking in, prescription medications. While these medications confer many benefits when used properly by the person to which they are prescribed, in the wrong hands they can be just as dangerous and deadly as street drugs. As a result, Canadian law imposes strict penalties on individuals who illegally use or traffic in prescription drugs.
These laws are put in place to deter individuals from misusing prescription medication as well as to stop people from using the ingredients they contain to manufacture and sell additional controlled substances. Under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, which deals with both prescription drugs as well as “street” drugs, you can be charged with either unlawful possession of a prescription drug or illegally trafficking in prescription medication. In many cases, individuals are charged with both.
Commonly Abused Drugs
As prescription drug abuse has become more common, so too have the medications involved. Health care personnel and police officers generally classify these drugs into three groups: opioids, stimulants, and depressants.
Opioids block pain by preventing the brain from receiving pain signals from the rest of the body. Because they interfere with the body’s ability to feel discomfort, they are a prime target for misuse. In most cases, they are also highly habit forming. Common opioids include codeine, Vicodin, Percocet, and oxycontin.
As their name suggests, stimulants cause the individual to feel more alert and aware. Popular stimulants, particularly among adolescents, include Adderall and Ritalin.
Finally, depressants help individuals who suffer from insomnia, anxiety, and a host of other ailments. Depressants include Ambien, valium, and Xanax.
Prescription Drug Offences and Consequences
In addition to these medical classifications, the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act categorizes regulated substances into five “schedules,” with most widely abused prescription drugs found in Schedules 4 and 5. These drugs are legal to possess with a valid prescription, but if the drug has not been specifically prescribed by a doctor to the person who possesses it, and is not sold over the counter in a pharmacy, it is likely illegal to possess. Additionally, these drugs are illegal to import or export, or to traffic or possess with the intent of trafficking.
The penalties for illicit possession or distribution of prescription medication depend on a number of factors such as the type and quantity of the drug, and the Crown may elect to proceed either by indictment or summary conviction. Consequences can range from fines to significant jail time, especially for trafficking offences.
Though prescription medication may not conjure up the images of “drugs” that cocaine or heroin does, their illicit use and distribution is just as illegal and can result in just as real and serious consequences. Such charges should not be treated lightly; consulting with a criminal defence lawyer experienced with prescription drug offences is of vital importance for those facing such charges.