For most people, the phrase “possession of a controlled substance” conjures an image of a drug abuser possessing a street drug like heroin or methamphetamines. However, possession of prescription drugs like Xanax, Ativan, and Klonopin without a valid prescription is treated no differently than possession of other controlled substances. The fact that prescription drugs have medicinal uses doesn't make they are safe. In fact, abuse of prescription drugs for recreational purposes has become a major health concern in the United States.
Benzodiazepines are the most commonly abused type of prescription drug. And while these drugs are used legally every day, the unlawful possession or sale of benzodiazepines can have serious legal consequences. If you have been charged with illegally possessing, selling, or transporting benzodiazepines, contact California drug defense attorney William S. Kroger today. An experienced criminal defense attorney could be the difference between leniency and a prison sentence.
What are Benzodiazepines?
Benzodiazepines, also known as “benzos,” are a type of psychoactive drug known as minor tranquilizers. The first benzodiazepines, chlordiazepoxide, was discovered entirely by accident in 1955. Since 1960, these drugs have been marketed to the public. Their popularity skyrocketed with the advent of diazepam in 1963 and by 1977, benzodiazepines had become the most prescribed drugs in the world.
The rise of benzodiazepines caused medical practitioners to slowly phase out the use of barbiturates. While the medical field was initially pleased with the results of the drug, concerns eventually grew over the high level of dependence people taking benzodiazepines can develop. Despite those issues, these drugs are still frequently prescribed for a number of medical issues. Some common conditions benzos are used to treat are
- Alcohol and drug withdrawal
- Muscle spasms.
In the United States, benzodiazepines are considered Schedule IV drugs pursuant to the Controlled Substances Act. While Schedule IV drugs are one of the lower tiers of controlled substances, possessing or selling them illegally can still have serious consequences.
There are currently 15 different types of benzodiazepines that are approved by the FDA for medical use. While there is the potential for abusing all of them, the longer-acting drugs are the most frequently abused. The four most common benzodiazepines are
- Valium (Drug name: diazepam)
- Xanax (Drug name: alprazolam)
- Klonopin (Drug name: clonazepam), and
- Ativan (Drug name: lorazepam).
Effects of Benzodiazepines
Benzodiazepines are typically prescribed for their sedative effect. These drugs contain will leave the user drowsy for extended periods of time; the effects of which are described by some as similar to alcohol intoxication. Like alcohol, some users experience “hangovers” that affect coordination and cognitive skills in the day after use. Benzos also have a muscle-relaxant effect which many use to combat painful muscle spasms.
Ingesting high levels of benzodiazepines too rapidly can cause a number of serious adverse effects. Typically, these reactions are noted in cases involving the intravenous use of the drugs. The rapid intake of benzodiazepines can lead to side effects like
- Injection site reaction
- Sleep apnea
- Lowered heart rate
- Blurry vision
- Respiratory depression
One of the most concern effects of benzodiazepines is the significant risk of dependency. These drugs are a serious dependency risk due to the combination of typically higher dosage and severe withdrawal effects. Chronic abusers can rapidly develop a high tolerance for benzodiazepines, which will lead to escalating abuse of the drugs.
Because of the potential for rapidly developing tolerance, benzodiazepines are intended for short-term treatment. Tolerance develops rapidly when using benzos as muscle relaxers or for anti-anxiety medication. But benzodiazepines effects as a sleep aid tend to develop a tolerance at a must higher rate. Failing to gradually reduce your intake of benzodiazepines can quickly lead to dependence and abuse.
While fatal overdoses of benzodiazepines are not frequent, the interaction between the drugs and alcohol, other sedatives, or illegal drugs is frequently fatal. The effects of the drugs are multiplied when mixed with other drugs, often leading to medical emergencies for abusers that are accustomed to a high tolerance for the drugs.
Use of Benzodiazepines in California
Typically, benzodiazepines are manufactured in the form of solid pills or liquid syrups. While there are some cases where benzodiazepines are distributed by a medical professional intravenously, most users ingest the drugs orally. The methods used by abusers vary, however. The recreational effects of benzodiazepines are believed to be stronger the faster it enters your bloodstream, which leads some abusers to use the drug in different ways. These can include:
- Orally – The most common form of use, it's common for users and abusers alike to ingest benzodiazepines orally.
- Intravenously – While there are cases where a doctor may require an IV with benzodiazepines, intravenous use by abusers typically involves the crushing, liquefying, and injecting of pills in an effort to achieve a stronger high.
- Intranasally – Some abusers also prefer to crush these drugs into a fine powder and snort them through their nose.
Benzodiazepines are a Controlled Substance
When it comes to classifying controlled substances, the State of California uses the federal schedule system set out in the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. The system consists of five different schedules of drugs, with Schedule I being the most addictive and heavily regulated. Schedule V drugs, on the other hand, are the least-heavily regulated drugs under California law. However, the penalties for illegally possessing or selling any controlled substance can be severe.
While the possession of many drugs is always outlawed, prescription drugs are legal to possess with the appropriate prescription. Prescription drugs like benzodiazepines are classified as Schedule IV drugs. You can face serious consequences for possessing these drugs without a valid prescription or attempting to sell benzos under any circumstances.
Unlawful Possession of Benzodiazepines in LA County
According to California Health and Safety Code 11375, it is a misdemeanor to possess benzodiazepines without a valid prescription. The statute is clear:
Every person who possesses any controlled substance specified in subdivision (c), unless upon the prescription of a physician, dentist, podiatrist, or veterinarian, licensed to practice in this state, shall be guilty of an infraction or a misdemeanor.
Health and Safety Code 11375 applies to 18 particular prescription drugs; many of those listed are benzodiazepines. The list includes
A violation of California Health and Safety Code 11375 is treated as a misdemeanor under California law. It is punishable with up to a year in county jail. A conviction also carries a maximum fine of $1,000. If you have been charged with possession of benzodiazepines without a prescription and have a clean criminal record you may be able to enter into a diversion agreement with the prosecutor. As long as you meet the conditions of the agreement your conviction will be dismissed and you will not be required to serve any jail time. Criminal defense attorney William S. Kroger can explain your options to you and help you get the defense you deserve.
Possession of Large Amounts of Benzodiazepines in L.A.
The penalties for illegally possessing benzodiazepines can go up in some circumstances. If you are in possession of large amounts of benzos, you may find yourself charged with possession with the intent to sell benzodiazepines. Possession with the intent to sell is a crime based on your intent, and possessing a large amount of drugs that exceeds what you would need for personal use is evidence a prosecutor may use to show the intent to sell. According to the statute:
Every person who possesses for sale, or who sells, any substance specified in subdivision (c) shall be punished by imprisonment in the county jail for a period of not more than one year or state prison.
Contact a Proactive, Smart Drug Crimes Defense Lawyer in LA County
Whether it is Xanax, Ativan, or Klonopin, a charge of possessing benzodiazepines can have serious consequences. This is especially true if the prosecutors allege that you possessed these drugs with the intent to sell them. No matter what you are charged with, your best chance of winning an acquittal or obtaining the most favorable outcome possible is by hiring the right criminal defense attorney. Your attorney should be committed to defending your constitutional rights from the moment you select them. William S. Kroger has the experience to ensure your rights are not violated.
Having an attorney with a depth of experience in defending drug cases could be the difference between a conviction or an acquittal. It is incumbent on your attorney to consider every possible defense strategy. Were your 4th amendment protections against unlawful searches or seizures violated? If so, your attorney could have any evidence collected during the search excluded from evidence. Did you have a valid prescription for the medication at the time you were arrested? Mistakes happen, and your attorney may be able to have the charges against you dropped entirely.
If you have been charged with possession of benzodiazepines in L.A. County, the William S. Kroger Law Firm is ready to help. Contact the William S. Kroger Law Firm today for your free consultation.