NJ Prescription Drug Possession Defense Update: Are Opiate Pills What Cocaine Was in the 1980's?

As someone who attended college in the early to mid 1980s, I can remember the popularity of cocaine. The stigma attached to the drug certainly was not what it is today and, to say that it was in vogue in some circles, would probably be an understatement. I see a parallel between those times and what is going on today with possession and distribution of prescription drugs like oxycontin, roxycontin, xanax, vicodin, and other opiate pills.

All anyone has to do is open a newspaper or turn on the TV and there is no escaping a story about someone who has been negatively effected by prescription medications. The list goes on and on - most recently resulting in the overdose death of Cory Haim. Many individuals view the situation as an epidemic. I cannot say that I disagree based on what I am seeing in my NJ criminal defense practice. All walks are effected and we have even represented doctors, lawyers and pharmacists on prescription drug possession and/or fraud cases. There is no escaping, however, that the largest segment we are encountering are young adults who developed a fancy for opiate medication late in high school or college. The demise of these kids can be very tragic and we have even seen multiple deaths in our office. It seems that the drugs are readily accessible on campus or elsewhere and we know they can be as addictive as heroin. Notwithstanding the numerous stories of ruin and death from illegal prescription use, we are not seeing a reversal like we witnessed in the 80s when Len Bias overdosed on cocaine. While this trend benefits me and my firm financially, I sincerely wish this epidemic would end.

Prescription Opiates and Heroin: Two Paths that Often Converge

I am certain that most individuals who abuse opiate prescription drugs have little thought of progressing to heroin. Nonetheless, when doctors refuse to refill prescriptions and/or the drugs become prohibitively costly, a readily accessible and cheaper form of opium is frequently enlisted - heroin. This pattern of progression to heroin is illustrated over and over again in our practice every day. Consider the following three (3) stories.

The first client that comes to mind is a gentleman for whom I am now guardian. He was a fireman in a large NJ city and sustained many orthopedic injuries during the course of his job. These injuries gave rise to over 15 surgeries and years of opiate pain medication. Eventually, doctors realized that he was abusing the drugs although all recognized that he endured significant pain on a daily basis. While no one would suspect that he would resort to heroin, he did when the opiate medication was curtailed and he began to get sick. I am sorry to say that he overdosed on heroin shortly into his usage and this resulted in permanent brain damage for which he now resides in a nursing home. He has three small children.

Another story involves an individual who also sustained an orthopedic injury for which he was prescribed opiate pain medication. He also had problems with addiction to the medication and, in fact, entered a drug rehabilitation facility to combat his problem. Unfortunately, he decided to "party" with an aquaintence he met in rehab and the suggestion was made that he try heroin to quench his opiate thurst. I am sad to say that this short deviation into heroin also resulted in an overdose that proved fatal. This banker left a wife and three small children.

The third story, and the one which prompted this blog, involved a 24 year old young man I met today at the Middlesex County Jail. Although I knew that he had been battling heroin addiction for several years, I had no idea how it originated. Then I heard his story and immediately recognized so many attributes, including his obvious intelligence. He had sustained an orthopedic injury as a freshman at Rutgers University that resulted in his starting to consume opiate pain medication. He became addicted and experienced difficulty obtaining the medication, becoming very sick from opiate withdrawal. Someone suggested that he snort some heroin as it might combat his sickness. He took the suggestion and it started him off on a downward spiral whose end is still unclear. His future, which was once so bright, is now highly questionable and the pain caused to his family has been immeasurable.

I have many more stories of individuals resorting to heroin after a prescription drug habit cannot be quenched. My hope is that someone heading down the road of opiate prescription drug addiction recognizes that these stories are not so far fetched given the type of people I have described and does not make this progression. Indeed, every person in these stories came from good stable families and had absolutely no thought that heroin had any chance of crossing their path.

Caught in NJ Trying to Fill a Fake, Forged or Stolen Prescription?

If you find yourself arrested or otherwise charged with a criminal offense because you attempted to fill a bogus prescription form, blank or tablet, you certainly are not alone. As the managing partner of a major New Jersey criminal defense firm, I can tell you that this may just be the most rapidly growing area of drug offense. Cases like these arise in a variety of settings including altered or altering a prescription (e.g. increasing the quantity of medication), forgery, forged or forging a prescription blank, calling in a fake medication order, or stealing prescription blanks. Whether it is an opiate based drug such as oxycodone, percocet, valium, roxicontin, or oxycontin, or some other prescription medication, prescription forgery, fraud, possession and theft is becoming more and more prevalent.

Charges or even an indictment for this type of conduct can be multi-layered. The reason for this is the fact that a white collar case involving prescription fraud can trigger implication of various laws and related penalties. For example, N.J.S.A. 2C: 21-1 sets forth the offense of prescription forgery, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-13 concerns prescription drug fraud, N.J.S.A. 2C:20-3 is the NJ law for theft by deception, and N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10.5 concerns illegal possession of prescription drugs. All four(4) statutes often come into play when someone is arrested for this variety of drug offense. While the applicability of so many potential violations can be somewhat overwhelming to a person charged in this setting, the good news is that these types of cases are often extremely defensible for lawyers possessing experience in these cases like our law firm.

Prescription Drug Charges Inevitable for Jacko Physician?

As the managing partner of a criminal defense law firm that handles quite a bit of prescription drug offenses, I have my suspicions concerning the death of Michael Jackson. Indeed, as his story unfolds, it appears that he may be no different than the electrician who overdosed on prescription opiates after suffering a catastrophic work injury or the firefighter who OD'd on oxycontin. The tragic stories go on and on, and the man in the mirror may have fallen like so many. The question which parents, employers, and others often express to me is - how can individuals obtain so much medication?  

There is no clear answer to this question.  We often find "doctor shopping" in order to obtain medication. There are also those instances where individuals with legitimate conditions seek excessive medication and then sell the excess. Another common scenario is a situation where a physician is simply writing scripts excessively or is otherwise acting unreasonably. This appears to be the explanation given by commentators in the Michael Jackson investigation and my experience as a NJ Prescription Drug Charge Defense Lawyer tells me that Mr. Jackson's physician may be looking at some criminal problems down the road. I would also not be surprised if physicians find themselves responding to the same types of civil claims that confront the New Jersey Medical Malpractice Lawyers in our state.

Is this going to be another Anna Nicole saga?  I have my prediction but I will keep it to myself.  Irrespective, I would definitely consult an attorney if I was Michael's physician.

Defending Another Monmouth County Prescription Fraud Charge?

Local news sources have reported on the arrest of a Monmouth County man stemming from his attempt to fill a fake prescription in Middlesex County.  The script was for oxycodone and was presented in the name of a NY physician.  The gentelmen was charged with Third Degree Prescription Fraud and an assortment of other charges. We have been consulted by the suspect based on our experience in this area of law.

The main laws implicated in a case like this are N.J.S.A. 2C:35-13 ("Obtaining Prescription Drugs by Fraud"), N.J.S.A. 2C:21-1  ("Forgery"), and N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10.5 ("Prescription Drug Possession or Distribution"). The primary focus of the prosecution in these cases is typically the Prescription Fraud charge under N.J.S.A. 2C:35-13, which is a Third Degree Crime. The possession offense is usually secondary as most individuals are caught without obtaining the prescription drugs or otherwise possess a limited quantity of pills.  There is also a Fourth Degree charge which comes up in these cases that involves possession of a prescription drug without a valid prescription issued by a licensed doctor. 

We also find that these charges frequently have a dependency overlay.  Opiate drugs can be very addictive and can cause all types of people to resort to criminal conduct to avoid withdrawal sickness. In fact, we have even represented doctors, pharmacists, pharmaceutical sales representatives, nurses, and medical office managers on these types of charges.  Over our years of experience defending these cases, we have built a network of professionals to address dependency issues which allows us to attack these cases on all fronts.