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North Carolina Opium Law Snares Small Prescription Pain Pill Holders

North Carolina's drug laws, which severely punish people who traffic in opiates, are yielding harsh prison sentences for people possessing or trafficking small quantities of prescription pain pills. That is leading to renewed debate in the Tar Heel State about whether the laws are too harsh.

This pill bottle fulls of opiate pain pills could get you 20 years or more in North Carolina. (wikimedia.org)
Under North Carolina's opium law, which was designed to attack heroin trafficking, anyone caught with more than four grams of opium, heroin, or an opium derivative faces a mandatory minimum prison sentence of between six and seven years. But as the Wilmington Star News reported, the four-gram limit means people caught with as few as four Lorcet tablets, five Percocets, or six Vicodin are subject to those draconian punishments.

The sentences increase with the quantities of drugs in question. Having between a half ounce and an ounce of prescription pain pills can earn a seven-to-10-year sentence, while having more than an ounce garners between 19 and 23 years. A single pill bottle full of pain pills could be enough for that latter sentence.

The penalties for opiates are much more severe than for other drugs under the North Carolina law. Trafficking an ounce to 199 grams of amphetamines has a two-year mandatory minimum, while the same quantity of cocaine has a three-year mandatory minimum. When it comes to marijuana, to get the same mandatory minimum as five or six pain pills, one would have to be caught with a ton or more of pot.

While some relatives of pain pill overdose victims have lobbied for harsher penalties, even some North Carolina prosecutors say the punishments are already too extreme.

"You can literally end your life in prison on a handful of pills," said Chris Thomas, an assistant district attorney in Brunswick County. "When the legislature enacted the trafficking law back when they did, I don't think they ever intended it to apply to prescription drugs. That was when heroin was a big problem," he told the Star News. "But it's one of those things that's on the books, and it's a tool that we're going to utilize."

New Hanover County Assistant District Attorney Janet Coleman, who handles drug cases, said many people she has prosecuted for pain pills had no prior criminal record. "None, zero, not even a speeding ticket," she said. "They are otherwise law-abiding citizens who end up in this nightmare."

[Editor's Note: Why prosecute people with those laws then? Prosecutors have the discretion to not do so.]

The issue has gained the attention of state lawmakers, but has so far gone nowhere. A bill in the 2008 legislature would have allowed some some convicted traffickers to get out after serving half their sentence if they lacked a violent criminal history and did not have a firearm when the offense was committed, in addition to meeting other criteria, but it died in committee.

NC
United States
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Is it a crime even if the pills are prescribed?

The article doesn't say.

NO

If you have a prescription for the pills they can't charge you with trafficking. If you're selling your prescription they can absolutely charge you for that. This mainly pertains to people who have no prescription and buy them and resale them. I think the punishment is rediculous and doesn't fit the crime. But NC is known for their rediculous laws on drugs. Drug trafficking is considered a violent crime in NC. I think that's insane!! You can get more time for selling drugs than killing somebody. Sad really.

NC is a messed up place to

NC is a messed up place to live.

NC is a messed up place to live ?

The United States is a F-ed up place to live.

Fear

Ever see a " stop & frisk " on Wall Street ? Opium Crops are thriving in Afghanistan for a reason . The Government , like Wall Street , play`s both sides of the bet . Drug Prohibition has corrupted Law Enforcement and the Government from top to bottom . College , Pharma , $100k/yr. , synthetics , patents , etc.......  Mandelbrot Fractals clearly show how this madness progresses . Ain`t it funny at how Americans like to punish themselves over getting high on something other than alcohol . Land of the " free " my friend .

Amen brother!

Amen brother!

Bad Math

Look, these Draconian prohibitions measures have not ever worked. Period. No exceptions. They will not magically start now. I believe the jails should be emptied of all non-violent drug users. Let them get jobs and pay fines while wearing monitors if they must be punished. I am sick and tired of footing the bill for so many people who use drugs getting ass fucked in jail and having their lives ruined forever.

North Carolina, 'yall better go back to skool. Just going to keep it real simple with one drug and one threshold. Percocet 325/5 is 325/1000th of a gram acetaminophen and 5/1000th of a gram oxycodone. Acetaminophen is tylenol and at this point in our societal evolution perfectly legal to hold any quantity desired. Oxycodone is the opiate derivative and the only substance that would 'qualify' as a narcotic.

Lets sat the threshold is 5 grams, just to keep the math real easy, that would mean ONE pill is 0.005 of a gram. Five grams is 5000 milligrams. Lets make it all milligrams: 5 milligrams per pill and 5000 milligrams threshold.

We are going to do some goesintas (thanks Jethro Bodine) so you may need to take off you shoes and socks if you have problems figgerin' these kind of things out. How many times does 5 go in to 5000? That would be 1000 times. That would be 1000 325/5 Percocet. This is the REAL threshold okay?

Don't agree with the drug laws in general or this drug law specifically, but if anyone has been busted for such a piddling amount, call your lawyer and get the charge reduced to something much less serious.

 

"The government's line is that the use of marihuana leads to more dangerous drugs. The fact is that the lack of marihuana leads to dangerous drugs." - Dr. David Smith, Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic

It is not about drug eradication

It is about the penal industry making profits off warehousing non violent slave labor. They make money on every angle.

Error!

Just because Starnews in Wilmington says it, doesn't mean it's true. Four grams of hydrocodone (vicodin) is not 4 pills. A single  5/325 vicodin pill contains 5mg of hydrocodone. That means you need 800 pills to hit this limit, which is CLEARLY a trafficking situation. No doctor is allowed to prescribe that many. Just because some redneck news organization can't do their homework doesn't mean YOU can't!!! This website is generally pretty good about fact checking, but you are quoting a bad source there. This is fear mongering and a waste of time.

 

Most states have a very similar law on the books.

Error!

Actually you are in error. The statue allows the officers to actually -weigh- the pills. So it may only be 5mg of hydrocodone but that single pill could weigh 5grams because of inactive ingredients or fillers, so if you have 40 pills you have 800grams of an opiate or heroin-like substance. This is happening right now in NC and is not fear mongering.

so it best to deal 30mg pure

so it best to deal 30mg pure oxy pills then 5mg percocet heck even 80mg oxycomtin or 40mg opana than percocet cuz that tylenol weight is gonna put yo ass away so best to deal the harder stuff than the weaker stuff sorry for the kiddos peddeling 2.5-5mg lorcets those bastards got 650mg tylenol or maxdone that has 5/750 650 mg tylenol gonna fuck shit up.

@anonymousgimp:Most states

@anonymousgimp:

Most states (in fact, probably all states) don't subtract the other compounds in the drug that aren't the active ingredient when they calculate the weight. Cocaine or heroin, bought on the street, is far from pure - it has been cut with a bunch of other stuff. Yet when someone is arrested and the drug is weighed, it is the total weight, including all the cutting agents, that determine the weight and therefore the charges.

Absolutely right.

I was in the sheriffs holding with a guy that got popped for cultivation. He said the plant was basically a stalk, with nothing worth smoking left, but when they weighed it, they weighed pot, plant, soil, and the drip pan under the pot.

Asinine North Carolina legislators and District Attorneys

As stated in the article, "said Chris Thomas, an assistant district attorney in Brunswick County. "When the legislature enacted the trafficking law back when they did, I don't think they ever intended it to apply to prescription drugs. That was when heroin was a big problem," he told the Star News. "But it's one of those things that's on the books, and it's a tool that we're going to utilize."

New Hanover County Assistant District Attorney Janet Coleman, who handles drug cases, said many people she has prosecuted for pain pills had no prior criminal record. "None, zero, not even a speeding ticket," she said. "They are otherwise law-abiding citizens who end up in this nightmare."
 

The Assistant District Attorney admits that he knows that the legislature didn't intend the law to apply to prescription drugs, yet he states: "But it's one of those things on the books, and it's a tool we're going to utilize."

Just exactly what are you 'utilizing' this tool for? Is it to harass law-abiding citizens who are in pain and have prescriptions to manage that pain? "They are otherwise law-abiding citizens who end up in this nightmare." So, ADA Janet Coleman admits that she knows that she's jailing law-abiding citizens for absolutely no good reason.  WHY does this woman still have a job?  This "lady" needs to lose her job immediately.  Blind adherence to meaningless laws that make law-abiding citizens into convicted felons is tantamount to outright tyranny.  Do the citizens of this state have no common sense?

[Editor's Note: Why prosecute people with those laws then? Prosecutors have the discretion to not do so.]

 

Why, indeed.  The citizens of this state need to be educated as to how they're being victimized by unintended consequences of overzealous legislators.  As far as equating prescription pills to heroin, that's a red herring.  The cops never subtract the inactive compounds when they seize cocaine or heroin because it's all illegal. The pills are NOT illegal if you have a prescription.

It surely sounds like NC has a need for some REAL defense attorneys and some intelligent legislators.  It will probably never be fixed until one of the legislators' relatives gets caught up in this nightmare government harassment.  Drug prohibition has never, and WILL NEVER work, any more than alcohol prohibition worked in the 1920's.  These laws only serve to victimize American citizens.  They DO NOT solve ANY problems, they only serve to create new, additional; problems for the citizens of North Carolina.  

Courts, Prosecutors and

Courts, Prosecutors and Police at their absolute best. Drug cops trying to set people up! I am shocked! . . . Prosecutors making fools of themselves sending people to prison for such nonsense. Judges/Courts sending people to prison for drugs. Governments caring less and protecting child perversion. I hate these sick drug cop freaks, Judges and Prosecutors for what they did to my child. What Illinois Governor Pat Quinn and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan are doing to allow it to continue! Andrew Scheroeder Badge #6969 of the Illinois State Police, August 15, 2007 led a drug raid on my home with a dirty search warrant. During this raid my then 9 year old daughter was permitted to use the bathroom. As a child (in passing) she looked into her bedroom and observed this individual standing over her laundry basket with a pair of her soiled panties up to his face. Illinois Governor Pat Quinn and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan should be arrested immediately! They knowingly allow their State Police to commit acts of deviant perversion to a child and then look the other way and pretend it doesn’t happen! Neither Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, nor Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan have the slightest concern over their rouge cops. A close look at the social unrest or acts of civil dissobedience and you will quickly find that the underlying problem is almost always created and/or caused by the police.

Uncontitutional acts by officials

The present administration has strayed further from their Constitutional duties than any other in history. The Tenth Amendment and other amendments expressly prohibit these actions that are being taken.  Unless the citizens of these United States wake up, do some research, and hold these corrupt officials responsible for their actions, then this nation will die a painful death and our descendants will wonder what was wrong with us for allowing our Constitutional Republic to die.  The sheep in this country that take the word of a corrupt Chicago attorney as truth desperately need to wake up and pay attention to what he is doing to destroy our way of life in America.  His talking point has changed from "Yes, we can" to "We can't wait."  He has openly stated that he will no longer wait for Congress.  He has publicly stated that he will pass "one executive order every week" until he can force Congress to do his bidding.  These are the acts of an autocratic tyrant who has undeniably passed the line into the "high crimes and misdemeanors" that define impeachable acts.  The people of this country that blindly follow this "man" will be remembered as the generation that betrayed their descendants and allowed a statist tyrant to take our country over the cliff into the oblivion of government control over every facet of human existence.  Popular "culture" is NOT as important as what's being perpetrated upon the citizens of this country.  Our forefathers are rolling over in their graves.  Stop watching 'Dancing with the stars' and 'American Idol' long enough to find out the truth regarding what is happening in Washington.  If you trust our 'public servants' to do the right thing, then you are truly the blind following the blind.  Corruption and lies are the order of the day.  The Attorney General himself is lying in his testimony to Congress.  When, oh when, will the citizens of the greatest country in the world wake up?  If people had acted this way in 1773, we'd still be paying taxes to the monarchy in England. If people had acted this way in 1944, we'd all be speaking German.  Please, do your duty as an American citizen and hold these corrupt people accountable for their actions.  Otherwise, this country will cease to be.  I'm glad that I don't have children.  I'd hate to be known as one of the generation that betrayed their own offspring.

Wheres the amendment?

These laws interfere with my right to pursue happiness. They're also an act of war, making them treason. The federal government doesn't have the power to outlaw a flower, especially under false pretenses.The use of public funds to print and distribute deliberately false and misleading information by the ONDCP is in itself a crime.

This is what a civil war perpetrated by a paranoid elite looks..

...like.  It is terrible situation that is inevitable with the kinds of extreme inequality that exist here in the US and many, many places in the world. The Occupy movement is an exercise in denial that is on the path to a clear consciousness about current politics and has helpped many to come around to a more reality based view. Draconian drug laws are just part of a broad assault on the population.  I can readily understand why folks are in denial about this.  I wish I could so indulge.

herb

There is what I think is a

There is what I think is a Federal alw that allows the courts to count acetaminophen and other ingredients in pills AS THOUGH THEY WERE ALL THE OPIATE DRUG. These laws are not just cruel, they're insane. The government has and knows about all the studies. There was one after Vietnam that show while a large percentage of soldier in-country had been using opium, heroin etc., all but maybe 3% got off the drugs and stayed off them after coming home. Another study they know perfectly well about is that prescription drugs on the street mostly supplied by pharmacy thefts, or thefts from other professional places like pharmaceutical manufacturers, transportation, etc. Chronic pain patients DON'T sell or give away their meds! They represent the ability to function, to rest, to work for some. Would you sell your ability to work, to walk, to hold a child you love? Too much of this is DEA propaganda that contradicts the medical studies. Why not? Cops get tens of BILLIONS of dollars in Drug War funding, the ability to set people up for civil forfeitures that after sale can be added to their budgets, not to mention incredible amounts of power and military gear for the use of which they are almost never held accountable. It makes the private prison industry (which trades on the NASDAQ) happy to, as they get more prisoners, and they stay longer for opiate busts. Even a long medical history of a painful condition, which the Medical Standard of Care says should be treated with opiates, won't keep anyone out of prison. Even the knowledge, usually withheld from the public, that there are 116 MILLION people in crippling pain in America who can't find treatment and only get abuse from their doctors, get thrown out of emergency rooms, makes no difference to the Drug War Police State.

It's about power and profits. The government is trading the lives of millions, over a HUNDRED MILLION citizens for power and profits. And that's just the Chronic Pain Patients. their suicide rate is double or more the rate of other people. They're almost always poor - they're unable to work and can't get the medication that allow them to return to work. And no, they wouldn't be working "stoned". Opiates don't do that to people who take them regularly for pain, The government knows that too. They don't care.

Ian

 

Ian

AMEN!

I agree with just about every post I've seen. My wife has MS and had been getting MSIR for intractable back pain due to the disease AND arthritis. Suddenly, this "new law" goes into effect, and the neurologist says "no more unless you can pass a UA, and you have to go to a pain clinic for that". Now, first of all, people have this idea that marijuana has NO medicinal value, period, and should be stopped at all costs. I, however, have seen the reaction of cancer patients, MS sufferers, and even MD afflicted folks (Jerry's kids, ya know?) after partaking of the substance, and often it was just short of miraculous. Once you witness that, you just kind of KNOW that God put that plant here for us to use (but not abuse) for those conditions that it helps. Why the medical community doesn't be more proactive about this is a mystery to me. The neurologist was amazed when she admitted that she HAD smoked some MJ in the last few weeks, and that the effects were dramatic. Along with the morphine, it provided her with a quality of life that will never be equaled by other forms of treatment.

Still, she visited the pain clinic, did a UA, it was dirty so the neuro said they'd write a "wean-down" prescription. Down every week one pill per day. Now that she's halfway through it, she is having BIG time trouble. Hard to sleep, eat, pretty much do anything. And it's not so much the withdrawal effects, it's mostly the severe and unrelenting pain that she has to endure daily. What a barbaric bunch of people, who can look in the mirror and actually say "I'm a professional" when they pull crap like that. Being the ONLY caregiver, I can't work outside the home, and this only increases my workload as she can't even do the things she's accustomed to doing each day. Plus, we have two middle-aged cats (10 - 12) that I must tend to on occasion, she can't even do THAT anymore.

Now, there's talk of suicide (and I can hardly blame her) and all kinds of things because the DEA has to stick their nose up EVERY stinking behind they can find just to get a nosefull of ****. I figured out a long time ago that, unless you completely and totally shun any drug besides alcohol, and anyone you know who may be "living that lifestyle", you are FAR from free in this country. It sucks that I can get pulled over and be FORCED to take a test, just so they can determine if they had the right hunch, whether I was doing anything or not! And, it may have been weeks ago since I "smoked dope" or something, they just don't care.

That is what I was going to

That is what I was going to ask.  Otherwise a simple vicodin or percocet would just be 5-10 mg, and it would take 400 pills.  If they can count other fillers, then yeah... that is insane and stupid (of course this is the war on drugs we are talking about, so I shouldn't be too surprised).  

There is what I think is a

There is what I think is a Federal alw that allows the courts to count acetaminophen and other ingredients in pills AS THOUGH THEY WERE ALL THE OPIATE DRUG. These laws are not just cruel, they're insane. The government has and knows about all the studies. There was one after Vietnam that show while a large percentage of soldier in-country had been using opium, heroin etc., all but maybe 3% got off the drugs and stayed off them after coming home. Another study they know perfectly well about is that prescription drugs on the street mostly supplied by pharmacy thefts, or thefts from other professional places like pharmaceutical manufacturers, transportation, etc. Chronic pain patients DON'T sell or give away their meds! They represent the ability to function, to rest, to work for some. Would you sell your ability to work, to walk, to hold a child you love? Too much of this is DEA propaganda that contradicts the medical studies. Why not? Cops get tens of BILLIONS of dollars in Drug War funding, the ability to set people up for civil forfeitures that after sale can be added to their budgets, not to mention incredible amounts of power and military gear for the use of which they are almost never held accountable. It makes the private prison industry (which trades on the NASDAQ) happy to, as they get more prisoners, and they stay longer for opiate busts. Even a long medical history of a painful condition, which the Medical Standard of Care says should be treated with opiates, won't keep anyone out of prison. Even the knowledge, usually withheld from the public, that there are 116 MILLION people in crippling pain in America who can't find treatment and only get abuse from their doctors, get thrown out of emergency rooms, makes no difference to the Drug War Police State.

It's about power and profits. The government is trading the lives of millions, over a HUNDRED MILLION citizens for power and profits. And that's just the Chronic Pain Patients. their suicide rate is double or more the rate of other people. They're almost always poor - they're unable to work and can't get the medication that allow them to return to work. And no, they wouldn't be working "stoned". Opiates don't do that to people who take them regularly for pain, The government knows that too. They don't care.

Ian

 

Ian

THE REAL THREAT!!

i dont understand why the police here are trying to put the slammer down so hard on pain pills!!?? the real threat. (that is growing rapidly) is meth!!!!, ive seen more of my friends go down the meth route than any other..and its rediculus!!? i mean. so what someone pops a few pills now and then. yes ive seen pill addicts and ive seen what they have to pay. but 9 times out of ten.. they recover themselves!!!. they either tell them selves they need help and make themselves. or family and friends help them.. they replace the pills with pot. (witch is a MUCH better "drug"). and they are fine. but meth..meth is a terrible DRUG!. it ruins people lives!!! ruins their apperance! ruins their relationships!. with family! friends! loved ones all together! but yall are worried about some dam pills!!!!!?? open your eyes NORTH CAROLINA!!! and relize the REAL problem that is taking hold out here! there is a dam crack house 3 streets from me and it has been running for years now!! yet you do not bust it!? i know 16 year olds that go there and buy crack from those skinny dam "gangsters!" yet you do nothing!!!???? sick to my stomach!!! you lazy snobs!

OMG! What happened to our Constitution?

In today's society it is unbelievable that our "lawmakers" would enact laws that by definition  would serve to discriminate against any American in the manner which the laws regulating prescription medication so unquestionably do. How can the American people have their tax dollars spent by their government to build, staff, fund and subsidize the patient's medication, and there by be the leading supplier of methadone in the Nation and on the other hand put people in prison for the rest of their lives who get caught with a small quantity of the exact same medication. There cannot be even a shadow of doubt that such punishment is cruel, unusual, and inhumane.  Any one with above average or average intelligence can not logically defend the constitutionality of such l punishment considering the severity of the crime..."shall not be subjected to cruel, unusual, and inhuman punishment"...end of story.

The stupidity of this, and other drug war legislation

   It is a travesty, that in supposedly protecting people from themselves, the state is incarcerating them, at my expense, thereby harming both of us.  Given this, the interpretation, and implementation of this law is even more stupid, and destructive.  According to the article, the law reads "four grams of opium, heroin, or an opium derivative".  The term "opium derivative" refers to a drug derived from opium, such as morphine.  Firstly, the statute is almost certainly used to prosecute the possession of fully synthetic opioids, such as Fentanyl, which are not derived from opium, but are derived from industrial chemicals, in the case of Fentanyl, Piperidine which a chemical found in peppers.  No doubt the ignorance of chemistry, by law school graduates, and legislators contribute to this.  Secondly, commercially available tablets containing opiates, are always highly adulterated.  For instance, the strongest Percocet tablet available, contains only 0.01 grams of Oxycodone in it, no matter how much the tablet itself weighs.  The four gram limit would be reached at 4 grams / 0.01 grams per tablet = 400 tablets. The prosecution seems to believe that the whole pill is Oxycodone.  If it were, it would be sure death to ingest it.  Does the defense not know this, is there no one as intelligent as me on the Juries?  What gives?

Its none of the gov't biz if

Its none of the gov't biz if I take vicodin...they should just sell it over the counter,,, helll the tylenol is worse for you than the hydrocodone

I truly agree with you on

I truly agree with you on this!They don't mind if we have a liver or not they just want more money any way you look at this that's what there after!

NC Legal Drug Harrassment

A relative of mine was charged with possession to sell because she was driving my wife's car and my prescription oxicotton was in the glove box. She was stopped for a non related reason, part of a continuing effort by local law enforcement to target her. She agreed to allow the officer to search the vehicle not knowing the pills were there and not knowing there was any problem. Now she is embroiled in multiple court sessions, she is going to lose her job that she spent five years finding, etc., etc. 

 

As a general statement regarding NC Sheriffs departments: Four of my family members have left the state and I am leaving as soon as I sell my home here. I am also moving my business to South Carolina.

 

By the way this issue with NC law enforcement is not just related to drugs. I could site a dozen other cases where they decided what to do, did not follow the law and common sense, but followed bias and personal agendas. 

 

I am a 78 years old ex-military and I did not serve for this kind of treatment.,

Pain pills

That is the stupidest non sense ever! People wonder why we have such a crime problem. It's stupid laws. Simple equation. Less stupid laws less criminals. DUH.

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