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The Dangers of Counterfeit Narcotics

The sale and use of counterfeit prescription drugs in Florida is nearing epidemic proportions. Illicit drug use always presents certain dangers, but when counterfeit prescription drugs are involved, the dangers are heightened. Through the increasingly prevalent use of pill presses, people are putting all sorts of substances in homemade pills and labeling them as popular narcotics. Many fake pills sold as oxycodone or Xanax actually contain the synthetic opioid fentanyl. Unwittingly ingesting fentanyl is extremely dangerous, with fentanyl overdoses causing 704 deaths in the first half of 2016 alone in Florida. Additionally, due to the way the statutes are worded, if a pill contains multiple substances, the government can charge you for the entire weight of the pill for any one of the contained substances.

Each provision of the drug trafficking statute specifies a prohibited substance followed by the language "or any mixture containing" the substance. § 893.135, Fla. Stat. (2017). This means that even if a pill is 99% oxycodone and 1% fentanyl, the state can choose to treat the entire weight of the pill as fentanyl. No matter how miniscule the presence of the substance within the pill, the entire weight of the pill can be treated as that substance. This has implications beyond counterfeit prescription drugs as well. Ecstasy is another drug which is often sold "dirty," containing substances other than the main ingredient MDMA, such as heroin. It takes ten grams to reach trafficking in MDMA, but only four grams to traffic in heroin. Both carry mandatory minimum sentences of three years plus a $50,000 fine. One selling MDMA below the trafficking amount could thus unwittingly be trafficking in heroin.

Recent changes in Florida law make the legal implications of counterfeit prescription drugs even more serious. Beginning October 1, 2017, there will be a new offense of trafficking in fentanyl. The minimum amount of fentanyl to trigger a trafficking charge is only four grams, while it takes seven grams to traffic in oxycodone and fourteen grams to traffic in hydrocodone. Some drugs, such as alprazolam (the main ingredient in Xanax), do not even have a trafficking charge. An individual could thus unknowingly be trafficking in fentanyl while under the impression that he or she is safely below the threshold for trafficking a different substance, or dealing in a substance with no trafficking law at all. Needless to say, if the government has the discretion to choose which substance to charge you with, they will almost certainly choose the one with the harshest penalty.

Even if a drug is completely fake, containing no illicit substances, one can still face legal consequences. It is illegal to sell, manufacture, deliver, or possess with intent to sell, manufacture, or deliver a counterfeit controlled substance. § 831.31, Fla. Stat. (2017). Although mere possession is not illegal, possession in sufficient quantities or under certain circumstances could be treated as possession with intent to sell.

Drug trafficking is an extremely serious charge with a possible sentence of significant prison time, and these intricacies of the law only further complicate matters. If you or a loved one have been accused of a drug related crime, it is essential that you speak with an experienced Florida criminal defense attorney to discuss your options. Please do not hesitate to contact our firm, and we will be happy to discuss your situation with you and zealously defend you against all criminal charges.

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