Counterfeit Pain Pills More Dangerous Than Originals

Thousands of counterfeit pain pills confiscated during a massive drug bust turned out to be more dangerous that the original prescriptions the bogus pills were imitating.

Distribution of pain pills

Drug bust

Photo by: Bill Brooks

Just a couple days prior to Thanksgiving, a man renting a home in Cottonwood Heights, Utah was arrested for what authorities are calling one of the largest drug busts in Utah’s history. The thousands of pills that 26 year old Aaron Michael Shamo was making and selling daily were being designed to look like popular pain pills such as Percocet and OxyContin, but instead contained an ingredient far more addictive and dangerous than oxycodone – Fentanyl. Detectives believe Shamo had sold and shipped the counterfeit pain pills throughout Utah as well as around the nation over the course of several months. The pain pills containing fentanyl could have reached millions of people over that span of time.

Fentanyl

Fentanyl is referred to as prescription heroin since users feel many of the same effects. The National Institute on Drug Abuse describes fentanyl as “a powerful synthetic opioid analgesic that is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent.” Due to this high potency, fentanyl is extremely dangerous and carries a greater risk of death. The CDC  stated that the “DEA describes fentanyl as a powerful narcotic associated with an epidemic of opioid-related overdose deaths in the United States.” By taking black market pain pills without knowing the actual ingredients, an increased number of individuals are likely to overdose. Those who are frequent users of pain pills may receive a high from the counterfeit pain pills containing fentanyl. Others who have a lower tolerance to opioids may suffer respiratory distress and die from a single pill.

Utah’s prescription drug problem was bad enough

pain pillsUtah has a major prescription drug problem. According to the Utah Department of Health, “Every month in Utah, 24 individuals die from prescription drug overdoses. Utah ranked 4th in the U.S. for drug poisoning deaths ( . . .)” They also stated that “59% of deaths from prescription pain medications involved oxycodone”. With so many drug overdoses from oxycodone itself, how many more would die when counterfeit pain pills containing fentanyl are taken instead? The sad reality of Utah’s prescription drug problem is most of the residents who abuse prescription drugs got their start with a legal prescription from a doctor. Unable to fight the opioid’s addictive quality, many of those individuals turn to street drugs or street pills. Instead of receiving the help and rehabilitation they need, they may be getting a deadly dose of fentanyl.

Help on the horizon?

For those who have family or friends who are suffering from addiction, there is hope when a loved one takes one dose to many. Not only did Utah pass the Good Samaritan Law, allowing persons to report an overdose of another without fearing their own prosecution, but there are overdose reversing drugs such as Narcan (nalaxone) that can be prescribed to someone who is close to an addict. Narcan can safely reverse an overdose to heroin or opioids and is responsible for saving over 150 lives so far in Utah alone. Unfortunately however, the overdose reversal drugs are no match for high potency fentanyl, such as the as counterfeit pain pills being distributed in high quantities by Aaron Shamo.

Narcan

Photo by: Peretz Partensky

According to the CDC, “Multiple doses of naloxone [Narcon] may be needed to treat a fentanyl overdose because of its high potency.” If the person administering Narcan to a fentanyl overdose patient or loved one is unaware of the need for additional doses to combat the fentanyl, the victim may still die.

Education and treatment

With so many Utah residents suffering from addiction and dependency on pain pills, it is vital that those afflicted receive the help they need through residential drug treatment facilities. These facilities should be accessible to all either by voluntarily checking themselves in or if facing charges such as possession of schedule II drugs, mandatory treatment should be issued instead of jail time (for where little to no rehabilitation is available). To discuss drug charges and options for treatment, contact a criminal defense attorney. For a list of drug rehabilitation centers throughout Utah, contact the Department of Health.

Legalized Marijuana is Taxable Marijuana

As neighboring states change their restrictions on marijuana by permitting all uses of the plant, the financial payback of legalized marijuana is becoming apparent as the decriminalized “drug” is now taxable. With medical and now financial benefits recognized, why does marijuana continue to be prohibited in states such as Utah and why was it outlawed in the first place?

Criminalization of “marihuana”

Photo by: Christian Frausto Bernal

Photo by: Christian Frausto Bernal

By the early 1930’s several states had criminalized marijuana due to racial prejudices against Mexico. In 1937 the U.S. as a nation jumped on board outlawing marijuana starting with the Marihuana Tax Act. Although racial prejudice was likely still an issue (note the Mexican spelling “marihuana” was used) it was said to be outlawed nationally for fear that it made people crazy and violent. In the last 80 years it has been determined that deranged tendencies are possible with or without the use of marijuana, yet marijuana use continues to be illegal in many states.

Slow progress for legalized marijuana

Currently, only four states including the nation’s capital permit recreational use of marijuana with 20 more states allowing full use of the plant for medical use only. Other states have either lessened their possession laws or now allow medical use of cannabis extracts as long as they are free of the psychoactive ingredients of the plant. Those remaining states that are hesitant to legalize any marijuana use include Utah where simple possession of marijuana can come with a 6 month stint in jail.

Health risks?

Photo by: ashton

Photo by: ashton

The main excuse used by states for keeping marijuana illegal is because of the temporary high that users can experience from THC, the plant’s psychoactive ingredient. This high can result in:

• Sluggish coordination
• Memory difficulty
• Red eyes
• Elevated heart rate
• Dry mouth
• An increased need to snack

All these effects typically dissipate within a few hours of “getting high”. There are also a few concerns of possible long term health risks associated with marijuana use including:

• Long term cognitive impairment (only when used by teenagers)
• Lung irritations or infections (Similar with inhaling any type of smoke)
• Potential dependency (as with any “feel-good” substance- alcohol and chocolate included)

Health benefits

Contrary to the small handful of health risks, marijuana an array of proven benefits for those suffering with medical conditions such as:

• Seizures and epilepsy
• MS
• Cancer
• HIV and AIDS
• Glaucoma
• Wasting syndrome

Decreased health risks and increased health benefits haven’t been enough to encourage all states to legalize marijuana so far, but what about the possibility for financial gain?

Tobacco and alcohol tax

Photo by: 401kcalculator.org

Photo by: 401kcalculator.org

Tobacco and alcohol are both substances that are known to be harmful and extremely addictive yet are 100% lawful once a person reaches a designated age. One of the main reasons for leniency towards tobacco and alcohol is likely due to the tax revenue they generate. Tobacco products such as cigarettes have an average tax of $1 dollar per pack, resulting in millions of dollars going into each state’s pockets annually. Alcohol taxes also contribute to every state in the sum of additional millions each year. With money in hand, many states including Utah throw a small percentage of the money generated at education and prevention of tobacco and alcohol use yet actually turn a blind eye on the health risks by keeping them legal. When will they do the same for marijuana which has far fewer complications?

Marijuana tax

States that have legalized marijuana have imposed taxes on it, and are already reaping the financial benefits.

• Colorado alone collecting over $130 million in taxes in 2015 from the nearly $1 billion dollars’ worth of marijuana sold.

• Oregon made $3.5 million on marijuana taxes in one month alone.

• Washington State is projected to make nearly $350 million on marijuana taxes annually by 2018.

Utah and other states that continue to criminalize marijuana are not only missing out on a massive taxable opportunity, they are losing money by arresting, prosecuting, and jailing those arrested for simple marijuana charges.

Until then…

Legalized Marijuana

Photo by: Satish Krishnamurthy

Money speaks loudly, and it is just a matter of time before the cost of housing inmates for pot charges along with the possible tax revenue from legalized marijuana calls to Utah loud enough for the state’s marijuana laws to be lifted entirely. Until then, small changes are hopefully on the horizon to lessen penalties for simple possession and remove the restrictions for medical marijuana use.

Medical Marijuana in Utah

The acceptance of medical marijuana as a viable option for treatment of several diseases and illnesses is increasing around the nation, yet some states such as Utah are still not sold on allowing complete use of the herb for medical use because of the psychoactive high that can accompany it.

Observed side effects

Medical Marijuana

Photo by: Chuck Grimmet

Medical marijuana has been a hot topic of studies for decades and there have been observed health benefits for those suffering many ailments. While some components of medical marijuana are gaining favor in the health field, one questionable side effect continues to be difficult for experts to ignore. What is likely deterring law makers from completely legalizing medical marijuana use in Utah is the psychoactive “high” that is often accompanied by red eyes, dry mouth, decreased cognitive function, and an amplified desire for food (otherwise known as the munchies).

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)

There are two different chemicals in marijuana that have medicinal uses. THC or tetrahydrocannabinol is the chemical in marijuana that gives users a “high” yet this same chemical that causes a temporary high has been shown to be highly effective at relieving symptoms for those suffering with:
• Chronic pain
• Asthma
• Insomnia
• Glaucoma
• Arthritis
• Lupus, and
• Decreased appetite
Even though THC has been proven to be extremely beneficial in the medical field, law makers in Utah have yet to allow its use due to the psychoactive properties. This can be frustrating for many sufferers of the above ailments, yet fortunately not all uses of medical marijuana are banned in Utah.

Cannabidiol (CBD)

Photo by: James Pallinsad

Photo by: James Pallinsad

The second chemical found in medical marijuana is cannabidiol or CBD which does not produce a high, yet is still successful at helping those suffering from:
• Autism
• Anxiety
• Multiple Sclerosis
• Schizophrenia
• Epilepsy, and
• Dravet’s syndrome
Combined with THC, CBD may also be used for those struggling with:
• IBD or Crohn’s disease
• PTSD
• Muscle spasms and tension, and
• Nausea
Currently, Utah’s medical marijuana laws only allow individuals with severe epilepsy to legally use the non-psychoactive CBD extract after first procuring it from a different state. Those suffering with chronic pain or other ailments continue to be disappointed with Utah’s strict laws on medical marijuana, however there is hope on the horizon for allowance of CBD for other ailments as well as the medical use for THC.

Possible change in store for Utah’s medical marijuana laws

After a lack of funds caused bills legalizing medical marijuana to die before ever reaching a vote, One Utah lawmaker, Rep. Gage Froerer, R-Huntsville is planning on sponsoring a bill that allows the use of medical marijuana for a wider range of illnesses which would allow strains containing both CBD and THC chemicals to be used. In case Froerer’s bill doesn’t pass, other legislative leaders are working to put a new initiative on the 2018 ballot while ensuring there is funding to support such an initiative.

Will Utah relax its stance on medical marijuana?

Photo by: David Trawin

Photo by: David Trawin

Currently, 25 states along with the nation’s capital allow the full use of both chemicals in marijuana to be used for medical reasons with a doctor’s prescription. In time there is hope that the remainder of the states will relax their stances regarding the use of marijuana to medical purposes. Until then, Utah residents are warned to refrain from possessing marijuana or visiting neighboring states which may have more lenient laws regarding marijuana use. Utah continues to carry strict penalties for simple possession of marijuana along with charges for individuals traveling from other lenient states with marijuana in their system. For more information on crimes related to marijuana use for medicinal and recreation use, contact a criminal defense attorney.