Prescription Drugs and Controlled Substance Offenses
If you have been arrested and charged with a prescription drug offense in California you are likely facing harsh judicial penalties and non-judicial consequences. You need a criminal defense attorney experienced in California drug crimes on your side to ensure that your rights are protected throughout the prosecution of your case. Contact the office of San Diego prescription drug and controlled substance defense attorney Domenic J. Lombardo today by calling (619) 232-5122 to schedule a free and confidential consultation.
Most people are familiar with drug offenses relating to “street drugs” such as cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine; however, in recent years legislators, law enforcement agencies, and prosecutors have increased their focus on offenses relating to prescription drugs. In the 21st century, controlled substance offenses are no longer limited to crimes involving illegal street drugs. Instead, a significant number of arrests made for controlled substance offenses now relate to prescription drugs.
What Are Controlled Substance Offenses?
If you live in southern California you are likely accustomed to hearing about the latest drug arrests in Mexico and the resulting seizure of massive quantities of marijuana, cocaine, heroin, or methamphetamine. While all of these drugs are considered to be controlled substances, the list of controlled substances also includes a number of commonly prescribed medications. At the federal level, the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, or CSA, determines what is considered a controlled substance. At the state level, the California Uniform Controlled Substances Act effectively mirrors the federal Act with regard to defining controlled substances. Although many controlled substances can be legally prescribed and used, some are also frequently abused.
Controlled substances are divided into Schedules I through V in the CSA with those in Schedule I having no accepted medical use in the United States and a high risk of abuse. Drugs in Schedule I include LSD, peyote and marijuana. Many prescription drug offenses, however, include substances found in Schedules II and III of the CSA which includes opiate drugs such as:
- Oxycodone – Percocet, Oxycontin
- Oxymorphone – Opana
- Hydromorphone – Dilaudid
- Hydrocodone – Vicodin, Tylenol 3
Prescription Drug Offenses
Substances listed in the CSA are not necessarily illegal; however, those that are not entirely illegal are highly regulated. A chronic pain patient, for example, might legitimately be prescribed Oxycontin by a pain management physician. Abuse of these drugs, however, can lead to criminal charges. Prescription drug and controlled substance offenses can occur under a wide variety of circumstances. For example, consider the following four vastly different circumstances under which an individual could find himself charged with a controlled substance offense:
- Recreational use – an individual at a party accepts an offer to purchase a couple of pills to heighten the night’s “buzz”. The pills are actually prescription pain pills for which the individual does not have a valid prescription. The party is raided and the individual is caught with the pills on him, leading to charges for possession of a controlled substance.
- Prescription fraud – prescription fraud is broadly defined as the illegal acquisition of prescription drugs. For example, an individual consults with a doctor and complains of an injury that does not exist, resulting in the physician prescribing pain medication which the patient then sells for profit.
- Failure to waste narcotics – healthcare professionals must abide by strict state and federal regulations when dispensing controlled substances. Particular care must be taken when a controlled substance is dispensed by a nurse but not actually taken by the intended patient. If the correct procedures for handling the substance are not followed, a violation known as “failure to waste” may be filed with the Board of Registered Nursing, leading to license suspension or revocation.
- Commercial burglary – the market for controlled substances is virtually unlimited in the United States. As it becomes harder and harder to get prescription drugs prescribed without a legitimate, documented condition, other ways of acquiring the drugs are becoming more popular. Commercial burglary of a pharmacy or clinic, for instance, is an attractive option for dealers or users of prescription drugs.
Investigating Prescription Drug Offenses
With the increased focus on the regulation and control of prescription drugs in California, and throughout the United States, a variety of new systems have been implemented that track both controlled substances and those for whom they are prescribed. In California, for example, the Controlled Substance Utilization Review and Evaluation System, or C.U.R.E.S., is a statewide computerized database that keep records relating to controlled substances dispensed throughout the state. The purpose of C.U.R.E.S. is to identify and deter drug abuse. Physicians, pharmacists, and law enforcement agencies are able to easily ascertain what prescription drugs have been dispensed to an individual by checking C.U.R.E.S.Controlled substances are also monitored and tracked at hospitals using the Pyxis system. Pyxis is a medication management system that aims to prevent medical errors as well as prevent the misuse, abuse, or outright theft of controlled substances from a hospital.
Frequently, a controlled substance or prescription drug investigation begins with an alert from one of these computerized systems. For example, drugs might show up missing in a hospital or the C.U.R.E.S. database alerts to an individual who is trying to fill a duplicate prescription. An investigation by local law enforcement or the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) could then lead to an arrest with serious charges being filed against one or more individuals.
Defending Prescription Drug and Controlled Substance Offenses
If you have been charged with a prescription drug or controlled substance offense in California you are likely facing tough judicial penalties. Many controlled substance offenses are felony offenses, meaning you face a lengthy incarceration and a felony record if convicted. Moreover, if you are a healthcare professional your career may also be on the line. If you are a doctor, nurse, or pharmacist, your license, and therefore your future, is at risk. Expect to hear from the Medical Board, Board of Registered Nurses or Pharmacy Board if you are officially named as a defendant in a controlled substance offense prosecution.
Whether you are a college student charged with possession of a controlled substance or a doctor charged with prescription drug fraud, the goal is to avoid a conviction and protect your personal and professional future. In today’s anti-drug climate, prosecuting attorneys tend to aggressively prosecute prescription drug cases. As an accused, you need a California criminal defense attorney who is equally aggressive and unquestionably committed to defending you and protecting your rights. Although each case is unique and requires a defense tailored to the facts and circumstances of the case, there are some common defense strategies we employ in controlled substance prosecutions, including:
- Challenging the search and seizure – drug cases frequently include evidence obtained by a search of an individual, a home, or an office. Over-eager police officers sometimes conduct those searches without the proper legal authority to do so. If we successfully argue that a search in your case was illegal, any evidence obtained during the search will be inadmissible at trial.
- Attacking the computer evidence – computerized records are often part of a prescription drug case. Both computers, and their human counterparts, make mistakes when inputting or searching data in a computer. We use computer forensic experts when needed to analyze both the methods used to gather computer evidence and the evidence itself in an effort to exclude any damaging evidence.
- Focusing on “possession” – it is fairly common for controlled substance cases to be based on “constructive possession” instead of actual possession of the contraband. This means that a law enforcement officer never actually caught you with drugs on your person. We are often able to make the argument then that the State has failed to prove the element of possession required to convict a defendant.
- No intent – Most criminal offenses require the State of California to prove that the defendant had the requisite mens rea, or state of mind, at the time of the commission of a crime. Usually, this requires the prosecutor to prove that the defendant “knowingly” or “intentionally” did something. When the defendant is a doctor, pharmacist, nurse, or other healthcare professional we are often able to convince a jury that there was no intent on the defendant’s part to commit a crime.
Hire a San Diego Prescription Drug Offenses Attorney
If you are under investigation for a prescription drug offense or a controlled substance offense in San Diego, or have already been charged, you need to work with a skilled and committed defense attorney. For immediate help, contact Domenic J. Lombardo, an experienced San Diego prescription drug and controlled substance defense attorney, by calling 619-232-5122. Mr. Lombardo provides a free and confidential consultation in cases involving prescription drugs and controlled substances in San Diego, Chula Vista, Coronado, La Jolla, Pacific Beach, Ocean Beach, Lemon Grove, National City, Imperial Beach, San Ysidro, El Cajon, La Mesa, Poway, Santee, Escondido, San Marcos, Encinitas, Del Mar, Solana Beach, Carlsbad, Oceanside, Vista, Fallbrook, Spring Valley and throughout San Diego County.