According to Georgetown University's Health Policy Institute, more than 131 million people — 66 percent of all adults in the United States — use prescription drugs. While the proper use of prescription drugs is certainly legal, if you obtain them through fraud or other illegal means, it can lead to felony charges and even prison time.
If you are facing criminal charges related to prescription drug fraud, you must get serious about your defense — and fast. A felony drug conviction can cause problems for you well into your future, from employment to housing. Moreover, as a convicted felon, you lose your right to vote and own firearms. If you are a medical professional you may be subject to additional consequences, including the loss of your professional license.
Speaking with an experienced prescription drug fraud attorney as early in the process as possible ensures that your rights are protected — and it could even mean reduced or dropped charges — so the time to tackle the issue is now.
Prescription Drug Fraud Under Texas Law
Prescription drug fraud generally involves a person obtaining or trying to obtain prescription drugs in an unlawful manner. You may be charged with prescription drug fraud in Texas under the Texas Controlled Substances Act, Section 481.129.
This section of the state's Penal Code defines prescription drug fraud as occurring when someone knowingly:
· distributes as a registrant or dispenser a controlled substance listed in Schedule I or II;
· uses a fictitious, revoked, suspended registration number during the manufacture, distribution, or prescription of controlled substances;
· issues a prescription with a forged or fictitious signature;
· uses another person's prescription to prescribe a Schedule II controlled substance;
· possesses or tries to get a controlled substance or an increased quantity of a controlled substance by misrepresentation, fraud, forgery, deception, or subterfuge or through use of a fraudulent prescription form, a fraudulent oral or telephonically communicated prescription or fraudulent electronic prescription; or
· furnishes false or fraudulent material information in or omits material information from an application, report, record, or other document required to be kept or filed by law.
Penalties for Prescription Drug Fraud
Prescription drug fraud is a serious offense, and it may be charged differently depending on the type of substance involved. In Texas, drugs are classified into different schedules as follows:
· Schedule I drugs have no accepted medical use in the United States and have a high abuse risk. Examples include crack cocaine, heroin, LSD, marijuana, and PCP.
· Schedule II drugs also have a high abuse risk, but they do have safe and accepted medical uses in the United States. Examples include many narcotics, stimulants, and depressants such as cocaine, morphine, and oxycodone.
· Schedule III, IV, and V drugs also have an abuse risk but less so than Schedule II drugs. Like Schedule II drugs, they do have safe and accepted medical uses in the United States. Examples in these classifications include acetaminophen with codeine, Valium (diazepam), and Xanax (alprazolam).
If the offense involved a Schedule I or II drug, prescription drug fraud may be charged as a second-degree felony, punishable by a sentence of between two and 20 years in prison and a potential fine of up to $10,000.
If the offense involved a Schedule III or IV drug, it could be charged as a third-degree felony with a possible sentence of two to 10 years in prison and a potential fine of up to $10,000.
If the offense involved a Schedule V drug, it could be charged as a class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail, and a potential fine of up to $4,000.
Forging or falsifying a prescription — including calling in a false prescription to the pharmacy — is classified as a class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to 180 days and a potential fine of up to $2,000. A previous conviction of this offense pushes a second offense to a class A misdemeanor as described above.
Prescription Drugs Commonly Involved in Prescription Drug Fraud Cases
While there are countless prescription drugs on the market, there are certain ones that are commonly involved in prescription drug fraud cases. Opioid pain relievers such as carisoprodol (Soma), morphine, oxycodone (Oxycontin), Percocet (oxycodone and acetaminophen), and Vicodin (hydrocodone and acetaminophen) are among that group. These drugs are highly addictive as users quickly develop a tolerance to the level they are using to combat pain and need higher doses to experience the same relief.
Benzodiazepines are also frequently involved in prescription drug fraud cases. Benzos, as they are commonly called, include medications used to treat anxiety and sleeping disorders and are also used as muscle relaxers. Benzos include Ativan (lorazepam), Klonopin (clonazepam), Valium, and Xanax.
Drugs used to treat Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) such as Adderall, Ritalin, and other amphetamines are stimulants commonly involved in prescription drug fraud cases.
Behaviors Commonly Associated with Prescription Drug Fraud
As noted above, the Texas Penal Code explains the types of actions concerning prescription drugs that are considered crimes. What follows are some of the most common behaviors that run afoul of those provisions:
· Doctor shopping: One of the most common violations of Texas law concerning prescription drug fraud is when individuals seek out different doctors at various offices to obtain their prescriptions. The prescriptions themselves are not illegal or invalid, but because the individual has lied, misrepresented, or simply failed to tell the doctor that they are already under the medication through another provider or that they are taking other prescriptions, doctor shopping falls under the category of prescription drug fraud.
· Impersonating medical personnel: If someone calls a pharmacy and falsely declares they represent a doctor's office calling in a prescription, this act is prescription drug fraud.
· Forging or altering prescriptions: When someone uses a doctor's prescription pad to create fake prescriptions, this behavior constitutes prescription drug fraud. Usually, this occurs when someone — sometimes even a member of the doctor's staff — steals their prescription pad and creates false prescriptions. This act would still be illegal even if the doctor's actual signature appears on the prescription if they didn't create the rest of the prescriptions as well. While the name of the drug prescribed may be difficult to alter, changing the dosage strength, number of refills, or even adding additional drugs could result in criminal charges.
It is important to note that medical personnel such as doctors, pharmacists, and nurses who have access to prescription drugs can also be charged with prescription drug fraud if they improperly — illegally — access or provide access to prescription drugs to others.
Potential Defenses to Prescription Drug Fraud Charges
Prescription drug use is rampant in the United States, which means that prescription drug fraud is more and more prevalent as well. These charges are serious, and claiming you didn't know certain actions are illegal will not be an adequate defense if you are charged.
An experienced prescription drug fraud defense attorney knows how to approach the battle against beating these serious charges. One of the best defenses against charges involving drugs — even prescribed ones — involves how law enforcement officials conducted themselves through investigation and arrest. If there are any irregularities that could lead to evidence being inadmissible because of constitutional violations, the charges could be dropped altogether, which is why it is important for a criminal defense attorney to inquire into the details of how the case against the defendant was built.
Another aspect that an experienced criminal defense attorney can attack is whether the accused individual had the required intent to be convicted of the charges. The defendant must knowingly and intentionally commit the crimes as alleged, and if the defense attorney can show that this element is weak in the case, it may be enough to convince a judge or jury to enter a not guilty verdict.
Attorney Doug Murphy is a board-certified criminal defense attorney who has been involved in defending many prescription drug fraud cases. With two decades of experience in criminal defense, he will fight for you and the best outcome in your case. He diligently prepares for every case as if it will lead to a trial, and he is a highly respected member of the legal community.
If you're facing criminal charges related to prescription drug fraud, contact Doug Murphy online or call (713) 229-8333 to discuss your situation. There's simply no time to waste when your future is at risk, so get in touch today.