Written by attorney Douglas Brooks Rohan

That's a Felony? (Part 1 in a series)

I was visiting a doctor’s office the other day when I saw a sign that instantly struck me as a great idea for an article. I have toyed around with a piece or a series that would outline actions or activity that you might engage in without realizing the seriousness of the situation. Something you might do without realizing you were treading in some deep water, thereby exposing yourself to significant criminal penalties.

The sign in the doctor’s office read: WARNING - The Georgia Criminal Code 16-13-43(a)(6) makes it a felony not to inform any physician prescribing medications to you of other prescription drugs you are now receiving from another physician.

Now, doctors are not lawyers, and I will grant them some latitude in their efforts to simplify the language of the criminal code so they can reduce it to a notecard posted on the cabinet door; however I would note that we are not talking about Amoxicillin. The code section references “controlled substances", so we are talking about an individual who might be trying to obtain prescription pain medication from two separate physicians at the same time for the same injury. If this never would have occurred to you, then congratulations: you are a good Boy Scout or Girl Scout! But the reality is that this is a serious problem and has really put our healthcare system in a bind. One which has placed in conflict the need to have a shared database for prescription drugs and the need for an individual patient’s privacy.

The legislature sought a solution that would criminalize the “seeking" behavior, with the strength of a felony punishment (up to eight years in prison and a $50,000 fine). But, as is often the case with drug addiction, the criminal penalties try to provide a rational approach to irrational behavior, with only limited success.

Other actions that the code section prohibits include obtaining possession of a controlled substance by misrepresentation, fraud, forgery deceit, subterfuge, or theft (a)(3); to furnishing false or fraudulent material information or omit material information from any application or report or other document or record required to be kept by law (a)(4); and to make distribute or possess any materials or equipment that can be used to counterfeit the controlled substance (a)(5).

While it is a misdemeanor offense, many do not realize that OCGA 16-13-75 prohibits you from removing prescription medication from its original container. I know many ladies who keep that little plastic baggie of Ibuprofen in the bottom of their purse, but if you put any prescription medication in that same baggie, you could be sentenced to a maximum of 12 months in jail and a $1,000.00 fine. To be sure, it is rare if someone has to face that ultimate consequence, but just the trouble of getting arrested, bonding out of jail and having your first day in court during arraignment so you can show the State your prescription seems like it would be time consuming and embarrassing, when all you wanted to do was save some space.

Now, keep in mind that this is not an example of “The Man" out to get you or put you down. The police have little choice in the matter but to arrest someone when they have a prescribed narcotic out of the original container because 90% of all prescription medication found on the street for sale is not in its original containers. Put yourself in the shoes of the officer. He doesn’t know which individuals have a secret addiction to pain pills and which individuals are telling the truth about the bad car accident they were in last month.

So keep your prescription medication in their original bottles and be up front with your doctor. Its really not so much to ask when you understand what the State is up against in controlling controlled substances.

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