The illegal use of pharmaceuticals is on the rise.
Many are drawn to certain legal drugs for their relaxing or even mind-altering qualities.
But prescription medicine can be addictive and harmful if overused.
When heroin became less easily available after 2000, there was an increase in the use of injectable prescription opioids.
Strong painkillers like morphine are often prescribed to cancer sufferers, but they are in great demand and have a high street value.
One terminally ill cancer patient in Western Australia had her house burgled twice due to the prescription drugs she kept.
Police believe that 58-year-old Mrs Landreth was targeted because someone saw her losing her hair due to the chemotherapy and assumed she had a stock of morphine.
Tellingly, only her bathroom was ransacked on each occasion.
The fact that certain drugs can be legally prescribed does not mean that their illegal possession is treated leniently.
Here is a guide to some of the offences connected with the illegal use of prescription drugs:
Possession – It is an offence to be in possession of prescription drugs that were not prescribed for you.
The maximum penalty is six months in prison and/or a $2,200.
Supply – If police catch you selling or offering to sell prescription drugs, you can be charged with supply.
Drug supply penalties will vary depending on the type of drug, the amount and whether your case stays in the Local Court or is referred to a higher court such as the District Court.
If you are found with a large amount of prescription drugs, police can presume that these were not for your personal use and you could be charged with ‘deemed supply’ – even if there is no evidence that you actually supplied, or planned to supply, the drugs to anyone.
Forging Prescriptions – It is an offence to forge or alter a prescription in order to get a medical practitioner, chemist, nurse, midwife or vet to give you drugs.
This includes creating a fake prescription or stealing another person’s.
It is also an offence to knowingly use any altered or forged prescription in order to get your hands on the drugs.
The maximum penalty is 2 years in prison, and/or a $2,200 fine.
Obtaining a prescription by a false representation.
If you lie to a doctor about your health, your symptoms or your pain levels in order to get medically prescribed drugs, you may be charged with obtaining a prescription by false representation.
This offence also comes with a maximum penalty 2 years in prison, and/or a $2,200 fine.
Drug driving and prescription drugs:
You may be charged with ‘driving with an illicit substance in your system’ if you test positive to any one of a range of drugs, including certain prescription medications.
However, it is a defence if you were lawfully prescribed the medication by a doctor or a pharmacy, and were taking the drugs in accordance with the instructions.
This means that if you are charged, you or your lawyer will likely be able to have the case dropped or thrown out of court by presenting the prescription.
If you wish to plead guilty to an offence involving prescription medication, the Magistrate or Judge will have a whole range of potential penalties at his or her disposal.
He or she may give you a fine, good behaviour bond, community service or a suspended prison sentence.
In the most serious cases, prison may be an option – but only as the last resort.
If you have been charged, a specialist drug lawyer will be able to assess your case and advise you about the best way forward.
They may be able to help you to avoid a criminal conviction in a range of ways:
• Get the charges dropped before your case reaches a defended hearing or jury trial;
• Fight the allegations and prove your innocence in court, or
• If the evidence against you is strong, thoroughly prepare your case for ‘sentencing’ and push for the optimal result in court.
The best thing to do if you are facing drug charges is to speak to a specialist drug lawyer immediately.
There are several firms that offer a free first appointment for drug cases, including our firm Sydney Drug Lawyers.
If you would like to speak with a lawyer, call us anytime to arrange a conference – we also have fixed fees for drug cases so will know exactly how much your case will cost from the very start.