Oklahoma is one of 29 states in which drug overdose has surpassed motor vehicle accidents as the leading cause of unintentional death, with more than two overdose deaths per day. Approximately 80 percent of these fatal overdoses are caused by prescription drugs, often a combination of narcotic painkillers and anti-anxiety medications.
In recent years, the Oklahoma legislature and the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control have taken steps to try to combat the problem of prescription drug abuse. Over the last few years, Oklahoma has fallen from being ranked 1st in prescription drug abuse to 7th. Still, ranking in the top ten in such a costly and deadly public health issue is a serious problem for the state, and proposed legislation would enact even tougher laws to punish illegal distribution of prescription drugs.
In a Prescription Drug Abuse report by Trust for America’s Health, Oklahoma was found to have 8 of 10 indicators of “promising strategies” for reducing prescription drug abuse.
Among these strategies are an active and mandatory Prescription Monitoring Program (PMP), laws prohibiting doctor shopping, laws requiring prescribers to conduct physical exams with patients and to demonstrate an active physician-patient relationship, and prescriber education.
Often, prescription drug distribution is committed when people share or sell their own legally prescribed drugs, or when young adults steal and sell prescriptions from their parents’ and grandparents’ medicine chests. Other method include prescription fraud through stealing and forging prescription pads to illegally obtain and sell frequently abused medications, or even robbery of a pharmacy.
Those who abuse prescription drugs such as OxyContin, Vicodin, Lortab, and Xanax may fail to disclose information about existing prescriptions to new doctors, a practice known as “doctor shopping.” To help combat this, the OBN enforces a Prescription Monitoring Program that requires doctors to check the database before prescribing a controlled dangerous substance (CDS).
Not every person addicted to prescription drugs must work so hard to find multiple doctors who fail to check the database. Often, these “patients” are able to find a doctor who is willing to prescribe powerful drugs with little or no examination in exchange for significant cash payments. Doctors who illegally prescribe drugs and who circumvent the PMP and exam requirements face the loss of their licenses to practice medicine, criminal charges, and even civil litigation.
In fact, in Oklahoma, there are physicians who are charged not only with illegal distribution of a CDS for overprescribing opioid pain relievers, benzodiazepines, and other commonly abused prescriptions, but also with murder for the resulting overdose deaths of their patients. In a recent case, an Oklahoma doctor who lost his license for overprescribing was charged with several counts of murder for overdose deaths as well as for the death of a person killed in an automobile accident caused by one of his patients who was under the influence of prescription drugs at the time of the accident.
While most criminal offenses are described in the Oklahoma Criminal Code, Title 21 of the state statutes, drug crimes are explained in the Public Health Code. The Uniform Controlled Dangerous Substances Act begins in 63 O.S. 2-101 and continues through 2-701. It contains drug schedules and acts related to illegal drugs as well as rules and regulations for legally dispensing prescription drugs.
Under 63 O.S. 2-304, anyone authorized to dispense or prescribe controlled dangerous substances, such as a pharmacist or a physician, will have his or her registration revoked under several conditions involving the illegal prescription or distribution of a CDS. These conditions include personal drug abuse, prescribing to oneself or one’s family members, and failing to “maintain effective controls against the diversion of controlled dangerous substances to unauthorized persons maintain effective controls against the diversion of controlled dangerous substances to unauthorized persons.”
In addition to losing one’s authorization to dispense or prescribe drugs, a doctor, pharmacist, or prescriber also faces the same criminal penalties as anyone convicted of illegally distributing drugs.
Drug distribution crimes are charged, in part, based upon the schedule of the substance involved. The most commonly abused prescription narcotic painkillers, oxycodone and hydrocodone, are Schedule II drugs, as are codeine, morphine, methadone, and drugs containing amphetamine or methylphenidate (such as the ADHD drugs Ritalin, Dexedrine, Adderall, and Concerta) and barbiturates (Seconal, Pentobarbital). Benzodiazepines such as alpralozam (Xanax) and diazepam (Valium) are Schedule IV drugs.
Distribution of a Schedule I or II narcotic—which would include prescription narcotic painkillers—is a felony drug crime punishable by 5 years to life in prison and carrying a maximum fine of $100,000.
Illegal distribution of other Schedule I, II, III, and IV drugs is a felony punishable by 2 years to life in prison and a fine of up to $20,000.
It is important to note that drug distribution charges in Oklahoma are not based upon the quantity of drug possessed or distributed, and that the actual sale of the drug is unnecessary to merit distribution charges. If your friend strains his back helping you move, and you offer him one of the unused painkillers leftover from your surgery, you are guilty of distribution of a CDS under Oklahoma law.
In an attempt to divert drugs from unauthorized use, the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics places prescription drop-off boxes for appropriate disposal of unused prescription drugs. Find prescription disposal locations here.
If you are a physician accused of illegally prescribing drugs, you face serious professional and legal consequences. If you have been arrested, or if you suspect you are under investigation for illegal distribution of a CDS, call today to find out how we can help.
If you are a non-physician accused of drug distribution for sharing or selling your own prescriptions or stolen medications, the legal repercussions are no less severe. Schedule a free, confidential consultation by calling (405) 417-3842 or submitting the online form.