When you think of unlawful drugs, you likely think of substances like heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, or crack. While possession and distribution of these drugs are very much against both federal and Pennsylvania laws,1 the laws cover many other types of controlled substances, as well. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA),2 wrongful use of prescription drugs has become a major health issue in the United States, as about 52 million individuals aged 12 and over have used prescription drugs for a non-medically specified reason and without the proper prescription at some point in their lives. If they did not have a prescription, this further means that someone had to give them the drugs for them to take. Both possessing drugs without a prescription and sharing or selling your own prescription drugs are against the law and can result in serious consequences if you are convicted of this criminal offense.

NIDA reports3 that the most commonly abused prescription drugs include the following:

  • Opiods taken for pain, including Oxycodone, Oxycontin, Hydrocodone, Vicodin, Dilaudid, Demerol, Oxymorphone, and more.
  • Stimulants taken to treat disorders such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), including Adderall, Ritalin, Concerta, and other amphetamines.
  • Depressants taken for sleep aids or anti-anxiety effects, including Xanax, Valium, Alprazolam, Diazepam, and more.

If you have a diagnosis and a prescription to treat a medical condition and you have a friend who has similar symptoms but no prescription, it may seem harmless to give them some of your medication to see if it helps them out. However, such a seemingly simple act can result in an arrest and charges in criminal court.

Prescription drugs are a controlled substance

Both the federal Controlled Substances Act and the Pennsylvania state Controlled Substances, Drugs, Device and Cosmetic Act outlaw the possession, sale, distribution, delivery, or possession with the intent to distribute of a variety of substances, which are divided into schedules based on their accepted medical uses, potential for abuse, and other factors. Prescription drugs are often listed anywhere from Schedule II, like Oxycodone, down to Schedule V, such as drugs containing codeine.

The severity of the punishment for conviction of an offense involving prescription drugs will depend on the type and Schedule of the drug involved, the amount of drugs, and the specific act that allegedly took place. Some of the common penalties for prescription drug crimes in Philadelphia can include:

  • Probation
  • Drug court
  • Fines
  • Time in jail

In addition to the above penalties, anyone convicted of these drug crimes may have a felony conviction on their permanent criminal record. This can have many effects on your life, including:

  • Limitations of professional opportunities
  • Ineligibility for federal education funding
  • Harsher penalties for any subsequent drug offenses

Though drug offenses are often charged in state criminal court, federal authorities do have the option to pursue a case against you. Federal cases usually involve drug trafficking and this includes the trafficking and distribution of prescription drugs. Federal laws specifically prohibit any dispensing of prescription drugs for a nonmedical purpose or to anyone else besides the specific individual for whom the prescription was issued. It is under this law and others that many prescription drug cases may be prosecuted at the federal level.

Drug offenses—even prescription drug offenses—can be extremely serious and can have a significant and long-lasting effect on your life. It is critical to have a skilled defense attorney on your side from the very beginning of your case to ensure that your rights are protected and that you avoid wrongful conviction or unfairly harsh penalties.

Discuss your case with an experienced Philadelphia criminal defense lawyer today

While taking or sharing prescription drugs may seem harmless in the moment, suspicion of doing so can result in serious allegations with potentially harsh penalties. If you have been arrested on suspicion of any type of drug-related activity—whether it involves prescription drugs or not—your very first call should be to qualified Philadelphia criminal defense attorney Brian Zeiger. At The Zeiger Firm, we have assisted many individuals in fighting against drug-related allegations and we understand the many types of defenses that may be available in your case. We will protect your rights throughout every stage of the criminal process, so please do not hesitate to find out more about how we can help you by calling 215-546-0340 today.


Brian J. Zeiger, Esquire, is an experienced and successful criminal defense and civil rights attorney. He is a seasoned trial lawyer with significant experience before juries and judges. Brian understands civil rights cases, including Taser, Wrongful Death, Excessive Force, Police Brutality, Police Misconduct, Malicious Prosecution, Monell Claims, Sexual Assault, Prisoner’s Rights, Time Credit, Medical Malpractice, and Medical Indifference.