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.

Lesser Included Offense – Plea Bargain Option or Backup Charge to Ensure a Conviction

When someone is charged with a crime such as a felony, that charge is often accompanied by a lesser included offense of that greater crime.

Lesser included offense

Photo by: winnifredxoxo

Photo by: winnifredxoxo

A lesser included offense is a crime wherein the elements, or specific aspects needed to prove guilt of that crime are included within the greater crime being charged. In order for a lesser included offense to be valid, it must be impossible for the greater crime to be committed unless the lesser offense is as well. For instance, a class A misdemeanor assault would be the lesser included offense for third degree felony assault as it is impossible for someone to use “force or means likely to produce death or serious bodily injury to another” if they never caused any “substantial bodily injury”.

Use in traffic violations

Lesser included offenses come up frequently with traffic violations. An example would be if a person is arrested for reckless driving and exceeding the maximum speed limit by up to 25 mph. The first being a class B misdemeanor (greater offense), while the latter is a mere infraction (lesser included offense). Utah Code defines reckless driving as someone who “operates a vehicle in a willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property”. Exceeding the speed limit in certain areas of circumstances can also fall under the same definition, but without a criminal charge attached.

One or the other

Photo by: Kyle Pearce

Photo by: Kyle Pearce

When a lesser included offense accompanies a greater offense, often the defendant cannot be convicted of both charges. Such would be the case with voluntary manslaughter and murder. If the defendant was found guilty it would be for either one or the other; not both. This can also apply to drug charges. Someone can be arrested for possession and possession with intent to distribute yet if the intent to distribute charge sticks the simple possession charge is void as it is already encompassed within the greater charge.

Lesser related offense

There are some lesser charges that are related in nature, yet not included in more severe crime. These are known as lesser related offenses. Possession is a lesser related offense to distribution and often goes hand in hand, yet possession is NOT a lesser included offense of distribution. Someone can be a middle man in a deal, never having the illegal drugs in their possession, and face distribution charges without the possession charges. If they did possess the drugs and sold them, then the possession charge would be a lesser related offense.

Use in plea bargains

Photo by: Karen Neoh

Photo by: Karen Neoh

A lesser included offense can be beneficial in defense cases as it can give the defendant an option to plead guilty to a lighter crime and have the more serious charge dropped. This is sometimes the case when there is proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty of the lesser crime but the defense may not want to risk the chance of the defendant being found guilty of the higher crime, so they accept the lesser offense in exchange for dropping the greater one.

Prosecution’s use of lesser charges

The defendant isn’t the only one that has the potential to benefit from lesser included offenses. The prosecution will often add a lesser included offense to ensure that the defendant will be found guilty of something. This backup charge helps the prosecution ensure a conviction when they may doubt whether or not the more serious charge would stick. Since they can be used for or against the defendant, it is always wise to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney to help guide you through the court proceedings and know when to accept or fight lesser included offenses.