Opioid use and abuse is on the rise across the United States, to such serious extent that it has been deemed an epidemic. In 2015 alone, more than one in 10 Americans reported using an opioid within the last 30 days. Unfortunately, these trends in opioid addiction and crime are not slowing.

Nor has the problem avoided Pennsylvania or the City of Brotherly Love. Opioids have grown to constitute about 60 percent of drugs found in law enforcement actions. Emergency room visits have steadily increased since 2007. Of Philadelphia’s 1,217 drug overdoses in 2017, opioids caused 1,074. Twice as many people die from opioid overdoses—702—than murders in Philadelphia.

The city’s Department of Public Health has devoted a webpage to help people who are dealing with the opioid crisis, and the mayor set up the Task Force to Combat the Opioid Epidemic in Philadelphia. Pennsylvania’s governor signed an Opioid Epidemic Disaster Declaration in early 2018 and created the Opioid Operations Command Center to help solve the problems associated with opioid abuse.

If you were arrested because of opioid use or distribution, you may be feeling anxious and uncertain about your future. Perhaps you are wondering what will happen now? It is important to understand the consequences a drug arrest may bring to your life, and also to know your options for moving forward.

The Penalties for Drug Possession

Under Pennsylvania law, there is no clear cut or standard penalty for drug possession charges. Every case is unique, and depends on many factors. Penalties vary significantly based on the type of drug, drug quantity and potency, intended use (personal consumption, sale to others, etc.), and other circumstances of the arrest, including any prior convictions or relevant probation terms.

When it comes to charges related to opioid possession, there are several possible consequences of a conviction:

  • Fines. Standard fines for opioid possession may be as high as $250,000. However, in extraordinary cases, such as where the defendant earned income from drug trafficking, the fines may be even higher as courts have power to impose penalties to absorb all of the income generated from drug-related activities.
  • Jail or prison. The penalties for drug possession may range from days or weeks in jail, to as long as 15 years in prison.
  • Probation. In some cases, especially if the defendant is not a repeat offender or was found with a comparatively small amount of opioids in their possession, the court may order probation. However, probation is not necessarily “getting off easy.” Standard probation terms can significantly limit a defendant’s activities and life, and may restrict them from being around anyone who is known to have possessed drugs in the past.

The high profile of opioids and their devastating effects on the state and community mean that many courts in Pennsylvania are cracking down hard on drug-related crimes, including possession and distribution. Defendants who have distributed opioids to minors may face particularly stiff penalties.

Regardless of the charges against you, you have protected rights under the Constitution and Pennsylvania law. The best way to ensure those rights are upheld is to work with an experienced defense lawyer who will advocate for you and try to achieve the best possible outcomes for your case.

Defending Against Drug Possession Charges

If you have been arrested for drug possession, your first response may be panic. However, it is important to remain as calm as possible. An arrest is not the same as being charged with a crime. You have the right to speak to a lawyer, and should do so as soon as possible, to help ensure you have an opportunity to be released on bail. Furthermore, there are several potential defenses that may be used in the event that you are charged:

  • You were unaware that you possessed the drug. You may have been using someone else’s car, unaware that the owner had drugs hidden in it, or holding a personal possession, such as a bag or box, on behalf of a friend or acquaintance, without knowledge of the contents. If you did not know you had drugs in your possession, you may have a viable defense.
  • You had very small quantities of the drug in your possession. If you had a limited amount of opioids, or opioids of limited potency, the potential penalties may be reduced. A small quantity of drugs may also be evidence of the lack of intent to distribute.
  • The drugs were seized illegally. If the police failed to follow the proper steps to search you, your vehicle, or your home, the evidence they acquired may not be admissible in court.
  • The drugs weren’t yours. While not the same as being totally unaware of the drugs, if the drugs are proven to have belonged to someone else, more serious penalties may be avoided.
  • You have a prescription for the drug. If you have been arrested for opioid possession but you have a valid prescription for the drug, you may not be charged.

It is important to note that having an addiction is not a defense. However, evidence of an addiction is a relevant factor that a court may consider when determining appropriate penalties.

What to Do When You Are Arrested

If you have been arrested, it is important to take appropriate steps to protect yourself and your rights. First, do not argue with or challenge the police. You do not have to provide them with any potentially incriminating information, and you may wait to answer any questions until you have a lawyer present; however, it is appropriate to calmly cooperate with them if they have decided to place you under arrest. In addition:

  • Contact a lawyer. If you already have a lawyer, contact them from jail. If you don’t have or know a lawyer, contact a reliable and trustworthy friend or family member and ask them to help you find a lawyer.
  • Wait to learn if you will be assigned bail. If you are assigned bail, you may pay the bail to leave jail while you await trial. If you are unable to immediately post bail, speak to your lawyer about your options.
  • Provide your lawyer with all of the details of your arrest. How did the police learn that you had drugs in your possession? What were the specific circumstances of your arrest? Are there any facts that could help or hurt you? It is essential that you are absolutely honest with your lawyer. It is their job to defend you, but they can only do their job well when they know all of the facts.
  • Follow your lawyer’s instructions. Your lawyer will provide you with counsel and advice, including actions to avoid, what to do with social media, and other steps to take until your trial is over. Following these instructions can have a significant impact on the potential outcome of your case.

Don’t Wait to Get Legal Help After an Opioid Arrest

If you were arrested for possession of opioids, don’t wait to get legal help! Contact The Zeiger Firm at (215) 546-0340 or online today to schedule your consultation and learn if we may be able to help you.

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.