The government is cracking down on prescription drug crimes, including prescription fraud. Unfortunately, many of those charged with prescription fraud are victims themselves. After a back operation or other surgery, you are prescribed pain medication. It could be Percocet, oxycodone or a similar drug. Before you realize it, you are addicted to the pain meds. Running out means going through withdrawal, so you take steps to protect your habit, and in the process, you run afoul of the prescription drug laws.
Prescription Fraud Defined
Under A.R.S. § 13-3406, it is unlawful to possess a drug that requires a prescription. Examples of drugs that require a prescription range from sleep medication and antibiotics to narcotics and amphetamines. Additionally, it is also illegal to both manufacture and sell prescription only drugs.
Adding to the severing of these crimes, possession, sale and manufacturing of many prescription drugs can be charged under traditional drug trafficking laws. Examples of prescription only drugs that are normally charged pursuant ARS 13 3408 (narcotic drugs) and ARS 13 3407 (dangerous drugs), include:
- Narcotic Drugs (A.R.S. § 13-3401)
- Percocet (oxycodone);
- OxyContin (oxycodone);
- Lortab (hydrocodone);
- Vicodin (hydrocodone);
- Dangerous Drugs (A.R.S. § 13-3401)
- Xanax (alprazolam);
- Ativan (lorazepam)
- Klonopin (clonazepam);
- Valium (diazepam);
- Ritalin (methylphenidate);
- Adderall (amphetamine).
Prescription-Only Drug (Not a Narcotic nor Dangerous Drug) ARS 13 3406
Whether branded or unbranded, possession, manufacturing, fraudulently obtaining and selling prescription-only drugs is unlawful in Arizona. The classification for each crime is enumerated below:
- Possession – Class 1 Misdemeanor
- Obtaining through Fraud – Class 1 Misdemeanor
- Manufacturing – Class 1 Misdemeanor
- Possession for Sale – Class 6 Felony
Prescription-Only Drug (Narcotic or Dangerous Drug) ARS 13 3408, ARS 13 3407
A completely separate series of statutes, definitions and punishments apply when the prescription-only drug is also either a narcotic or dangerous drug. The classification for each crime is enumerated below:
- Possession – Class 4 Felony
- Obtaining through Fraud – Class 3 Felony
- Manufacturing – Class 2 Felony
- Possession for Sale – Class 2 Felony
Additional Crimes – Prescription Forgery
Under Arizona law, obtaining a prescription-only drug by way of fraud, deceit or misrepresentation can be either a class 1 misdemeanor or a class 3 felony depending on the type of drug you obtain.
However, in addition to prescription fraud charges, people can also expect additional charges if they obtained the drugs using a forged prescription, a stolen prescriptions pad or by doctor shopping. It is fairly common that prosecutors with also charge criminal defendants with theft charges as well as traditional forgery charges for a prescription forgery or stolen prescription pad. Depending on the length of the forgeries and the number of prescriptions written, prosecutors can and will add a fraud scheme charge in certain instances.
8 Examples of Prescription Fraud
Prescription fraud can take many forms, all of which are illegal. Below is a list of the most common ways that prescription fraud is perpetrated.
- Doctor shopping. You visit several doctors, making the same complaint concerning pain. You request pain meds, and you conceal from each the fact that you have requested and received the same or similar medication from the other doctors.
- Impersonation. Impersonating a doctor or medical staff when you call in a prescription to a pharmacy using a doctor’s information but substituting your telephone number for a call-back.
- Prescription Forgery. You steal a prescription pad from a doctor’s office, write out and sign a prescription in the doctor’s name.
- Altering a Prescription. The doctor gives you a prescription for 5 pills. You alter the prescription so that it says 50 pills.
- Creating Fake Prescriptions. You use your computer to create phony prescription forms and submit the forms to the pharmacy.
- Falsifying Medical Records. You go to a doctor and complain of non-existent symptoms, or a fake injury, to obtain a prescription.
- Multiple Use of a Single Prescription. You take the same prescription to more than one pharmacy to have it filled multiple times
- Identity Theft. Using false identification to have a prescription filled.
Punishment for Prescription Fraud
As long as the drug is not a narcotic or dangerous drug, simple possession of prescription-only drugs is generally a class 1 misdemeanor. However, many of the drugs that people are most anxious to obtain through fraud or deceit fall within the definition of a narcotic or dangerous drug and are serious felonies. Additionally, the sale of any prescription-only drug is a felony in Arizona. These charges can lead to significant jail or prison time. Below are the punishments for prescription fraud based on the classification of misdemeanor or felony.
Class 1 Misdemeanor
- Up to a $2,500 fine;
- Between probation and 6 months in jail;
Class 4 Felony
- Probation; or
- Between 1 and a maximum of 3.75 years in prison.
Class 3 Felony
- Probation; or
- Between 2 and a maximum of 8.5 years in prison.
Class 2 Felony
- Probation; or
- Between 3 and a maximum of 12.5 years in prison.
Defenses to Prescription Fraud Charges
Some defenses to prescription fraud charges mirror those in other criminal cases. These include illegal search and seizure, and related issues such as a defective search warrant. But a prescription fraud charge requires proof of intent. Since intent is often inferred from surrounding circumstances, a successful challenge to that element of the offense may be possible, and we may be able to demonstrate that you did not have the requisite intent to misrepresent the facts.
Even where the weight of the evidence against you appears strong, we may be able to negotiate and achieve a reduction in the charges, including situations where your acts were caused by addiction.
Given the rise in drug dependency in the nation many possession and even fraud charges can be resolved using alternative sentencing techniques. These programs include diversion, alcohol and drug rehabilitation, drug court, community service, and others. The important thing to recognize is that with the right lawyer, jail or prison is not necessarily the only possible result in your case.
Prescription Fraud Lawyer
At Feldman & Royle, we understand how prescription drug use can spin out of control, beginning with a valid prescription for medical reasons, and then progressing from that point. We also understand that many of those charged with prescription and other drug crimes have done nothing wrong. As experienced prescription drug lawyers, we will analyze your case and develop a sound strategy that will ensure that your rights are protected. We have help countless previous clients avoid convictions and have helped put their lives back on track. We offer a free and privileged consultation to help you understand your charges and develop a winning defense strategy.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Is prescription fraud a felony?
- Whether prescription fraud is a felony in Arizona depends on the type of drug that the person is trying to obtain by way of a forged prescription, deceit or misrepresentation. If the drug is narcotic or dangerous drug, then prescription fraud is a class 3 felony. Otherwise, for all other prescription-only drugs, prescription fraud is a misdemeanor.
What is doctor shopping?
- Doctor shopping is when a person goes to different doctors complaining of the same aliments in an effort to obtain drugs to treat the condition from each doctor without telling the doctors about one another. Doctor shopping involving narcotic or dangerous drugs is a class 3 felony in Arizona.