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Pennsylvania investigating opioid crisis

According to the Palm Beach Institute, nearly five million Americans are addicted to prescription painkillers. Name-brand drugs like OxyContin might work well to solve personal aches and pains, but they are creating new problems related to addiction, drug possession and white collar crime. What is being done to confront this recent epidemic?

In June, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro joined officials from three other states in investigating how opioids are manufactured and marketed in the United States. President Donald Trump has also assigned his own panel to look into the issue. What does this mean for the future of opioids in the United States?

Prescription opioid painkillers are a Schedule II drug

Prescription painkillers are a Schedule II controlled substance, as classified by the Drug Enforcement Administration, which means that the drugs have medical value but are also a high risk for addiction and abuse by its users. The misuse or mishandling of opioids by both patients and medical professionals can have significant criminal consequences.

What are the penalties for prescriptions in Pennsylvania?

Any person who wrongfully acquires, prescribes or manufactures prescription opioids in Pennsylvania can be charged with a felony, which is punishable by up to five years in prison and a $15,000 fine. Medical professionals also risk their professional licensure by engaging in illegal activity related to prescription drugs.

According to Jurist, government officials have focused on high-level executives and manufacturers of OxyContin, who were found guilty of misbranding the drug a decade ago. However, doctors and patients are continually caught up in the low-level, day-to-day distribution of the prescription drug.

How is opioid possession and distribution handled by the courts?

Because the prescription opioid crisis centers around addiction and the methods of the health care system itself, drug courts appear poised to rely on alternative sentencing methods in an attempt to treat patients and doctors charged with wrongful possession or distribution effectively.

In Pennsylvania, these alternative methods have included "vaccinating" inmates against opioids before their release from jail or prison, according to ProPublica. A criminal defense attorney may work to seek alternative sentencing methods for those charged with prescription drug-related crimes in the Franklin area too. Alternative sentencing could include probation instead of jail time, mandatory treatment and addiction classes or public service hours.

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