Is it Illegal to Share Prescription Drugs in Utah?

Salt Lake City criminal lawyer

With more and more prescription drugs available to the public each year, and plenty of TV ads promoting the already existing ones, this type of medication has increasingly become a household item. That familiarity has contributed to the notion that sharing prescription drugs with a friend or relative is a normal occurrence. However, many are not aware that what may seem to be a gesture of solidarity may represent a drug crime, punishable by steep fines, years of jail time and a permanent mark on your record.

Is there a Prescription Drug Problem in Utah?

According to a survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 29% of women and 27% of men in the United States engaged in the dangerous practice of borrowing or sharing pills that should be taken by prescription only. However, the problem seems to be worsening in the state of Utah, with the increase of fatal overdoses caused by pain medication having risen 400% since the year 2000.

A report from the Utah Department of Health found that an average of 23 Utahns died every month as a result of prescription opioids like oxycodone, morphine and methadone. The perilous habit of using another person’s prescription drugs has even affected children and teenagers. Surprisingly, 47% of teenagers say it is easy to get prescription drugs from their parent’s medicine cabinet. Another 2,6% of teenagers in the 8th, 10th, and 12th grade even admitted to having used another person’s prescription drugs within the last 30 days.

prescription drug distribution

Why is Sharing a Prescription Medicine a Drug Crime?

According to 21 U.S.C. § 802 (11), the act of delivery of a drug -like those meant to be taken only by people with prescriptions- doesn’t entail a monetary transaction. In other words, no money has to trade hands in order for the term “distribute” to be applicable. The concept of “distribute”, in the legal definition, means to deliver (other than by administering or dispensing) a controlled substance or a listed chemical. The term “distributor” means a person who so delivers a controlled substance or a listed chemical.

Additionally, 21 U.S.C. § 841 (a) specifically states that it is illegal to manufacture, distribute, or dispense, or possess with intent to manufacture, distribute, or dispense, a controlled substance or its counterfeit. This, of course, excludes licensed medical staff and companies with the necessary authorization.

Utah’s legislative definition also identifies the act to distribute in the same way, excluding any kind of money exchange between the parties as a condition for the crime of distribution to be committed. As it is stated in the Controlled Substances Act (Utah Code § 58-37-2), “distribute” means to deliver other than by administering or dispensing a controlled substance or a listed chemical.

Punishments for Sharing Prescription Drugs

Different drugs, of course, carry different penalties. However, it may surprise you to know that the pills your doctor gave you for an old back injury could get you in some serious trouble. Vicodin, a frequently used medication directed for pain relief, is classified as a Schedule II narcotic substance (Utah Code § 58-37-4) because of its active ingredient: hydrocodone.

The seemingly harmless action of sharing a pill of Vicodin with a friend or relative who is also suffering from chronic pain could make you face a second degree felony and up to 15 years in prison. If this happens a second time, the crime is upgraded to a first degree felony.

Other substances, which fall into the less prohibitive Schedule III category, can also represent thousands of dollars in fines, a probation period and/or up to 10 years of imprisonment in accordance to federal laws. A few substances in this group include hormones, steroids and sedatives like ketamine and its derivatives.

criminal in orange jumpsuit and handcuffs

Seek Professional Legal Counsel Before Taking Action

In the state of Utah, penalties are severe for drug crimes of all kinds, including those in the prescription category. If you or a loved one has been accused of possession or distribution of prescription drugs of any schedule, it is important to have experienced legal counsel at your side when considering your options. A Salt Lake City criminal defense lawyer can help you figure this out. The sooner you start preparing your defense, the better your chances for a positive outcome. Call us at (801) 758-2287 to arrange a confidential assessment of your case free of charge.