March 18, 2014

Warning: Prescription Medications Can Lead to Drug-Related Criminal Charges, Too!

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In today’s era of late-breaking news, we are constantly seeing stories of drug-related arrests and court cases. The public display of mug shots has become nearly a daily occurrence, and we are almost numb to it. It portrays a culture we view as remote, and we are so glad that we are not part of it. But you may be closer to it than you think. 

Picture this scenario:

After a recent injury, your physician prescribed Lortabs or some other painkiller for you. You don’t take them all of the time, but there are some times when that shoulder/leg/knee/whatever just hurts enough that you need one, so you don’t want to get caught without one. You do not want to carry the whole big prescription bottle with you, so you put one in your pocket, in the sample size aspirin bottle you carry all of your pills in, or whatever other container you find convenient to carry and that you carry with you all of the time anyway. 

On the way home, you drop something on the floor of your car and reach for it, causing your car to swerve.  You recover and continue on your way. Unfortunately, your swerve was noted by a police officer who pulls you over. Confronted with your episode of erratic driving, you explain the dropped article, and the officer does not smell alcohol, but he really doesn’t believe you about the dropped article, either (“They all say that.”). He suspects drug consumption based on the erratic behavior and your inability to provide what he views as an adequate explanation. He gets a warrant to search your possessions and your vehicle, and he finds that painkiller. You are busted. But you had a prescription for it! “Just let me go home, officer, and get it to show you!” That isn’t going to happen.

In some jurisdictions, simply being in possession of a controlled substance that is not in the original issuing container is itself a crime, and it does not matter whether you had a prescription for it or not. In Indiana, having a prescription is a defense, but it is what is considered an “affirmative defense.” This means it is up to you to prove the prescription as a matter of defense, and you will not have a chance to do that until after the arrest. Odds are, by then you have been in the news with that horrible picture and your name followed by “Arrested for Possession of Controlled Substance Without a Prescription.” You may be released, or you may spend the night in jail, but either way you run home as soon as possible to get the bottle showing that it is your prescription. And maybe the police drop the charges. But you have been arrested, and your picture has been in the newspaper – that damage is done.

The lesson here is that you should NEVER carry a prescription painkiller (or other controlled substance) other than in the original pharmacy bottle in which that pill was delivered to you. The bottle must have your name on it, not your spouse’s name or someone else’s from whom you just “borrowed one this time.”  You may or may not ultimately be convicted, but the price you could pay while waiting to clear yourself is just not worth avoiding the inconvenience of carrying that bottle around with you.