Sharing Prescription Drugs in Utah

Many Utah residents have faced legal or other unpleasant ramifications due to them lovingly, yet illegally sharing prescription drugs with their friends or family.

Care, don’t share

Photo by: Ajay Suresh

When a family member or friend is suffering from an ailment, loved ones want to do whatever possible to help relieve the symptoms being suffered. Perhaps a spouse is in pain after a lengthy dentist visit. Maybe an elderly neighbor has thrown out their back working in the yard. Or possibly an adult child is facing the pain that comes from an unexpected kidney stone. Sometimes an ice pack or a simple over the counter remedy does the trick when other times something stronger is needed. Instead of sending the unwell person to their primary care physician to legally obtain a necessary prescription, many Utah residents will head for their own prescription medications to treat a loved one-not realizing they are about to commit a crime.

Sharing is distribution

When a family member or friend shares a prescription with others, they are ultimately distributing that prescribed medication to another. Even if the person receiving the medication does not offer any sort of payment, it is still against the law. Utah Code 58-37-2 states: “Distribute means to deliver other than by administering or dispensing a controlled substance [through a pharmacy]”. That section also notes: “Deliver” or delivery” means the actual, constructive, or attempted transfer of a controlled substance or a listed chemical, whether or not any agency relationship exists.”

Criminal charges

Many prescription drugs including those meant to reduce pain or induce sleep are considered controlled substances by state and federal law. The Controlled Substances Act separates street and prescription drugs into different schedules depending on what they are used for, their potential for abuse, and their risk for harm. When someone shares a prescription drug that is considered a controlled substance, especially those that are a Schedule I or II drug, they may face serious criminal penalties. According to Utah Code 58-37-8:

• Anyone convicted of distributing a Schedule I controlled substance or a Schedule II controlled substance such as Adderall, Ritalin, Percocet, Vicodin, OxyContin, and Norco “ . . . is guilty of a second degree felony, punishable by imprisonment for not more than 15 years, and upon a second or subsequent conviction is guilty of a first degree felony.”

• Anyone convicted of sharing a Schedule III or IV controlled substances such as Suboxone, Tylenol with Codeine, Vicodin, Soma, Valium, Ativan, Xanax, “. . . or marijuana is guilty of a third degree felony, or [second degree felony upon a subsequent conviction].”

The recipients of someone else’s prescription drugs may themselves face criminal charges for possession.

Health risks

Beyond the criminal charges possible, family or friends could end up responsible for causing more misery to someone they care about. When prescription drugs are shared, the person to whom they are shared with may have adverse reactions to the medication that could have been avoided had they been under the care of a doctor. Additionally, if a prescription is shared that is a controlled substance, the recipient may develop a dependence to the medication that can completely derail their lives and send them down a path of addiction and pain far worse than they were originally facing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warn, “In 2016, more than 11.5 million Americans reported misusing prescription opioids in the past year.” That figure only includes those who reported their misuse, and may not include those who are getting their meds from a family member. For more information on criminal charges related to sharing prescription drugs, contact a criminal defense attorney. For help regarding substance abuse including prescription drugs, contact the Utah Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health to find a treatment center nearest you.