Barbiturates: Legal consequences

Last modified: Thursday, 25. December 2008 - 6:15 am

 Legal consequences of Barbiturates

When barbiturates first went on the market during the 1930s, people in the United States did not need a prescription to buy them. Lawmakers soon realized that barbiturates were addictive. Some states adopted laws that banned the sale of nonprescription barbiturates. The federal government took similar action after the Food and Drug Administration gained regulatory power in 1938. That set the stage for a 40-year battle against barbiturate abuse.

Legal history

The federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act of 1938 gave regulatory powers to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Pharmaceutical companies apply to the FDA for approval to manufacture a new drugs. The approval process includes research, testing, and hearings. Once a drug is approved, the FDA determines whether a prescription is required.

FDA regulations about prescription drugs apply to how the manufacturer promotes or advertises the medications. Unless specified by other regulations such as the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), there are no restrictions on the condition for which the doctor prescribes the pill, the dosage prescribed, or the amount of time that the patient will take the pill.

Federal guidelines, regulations, and penalties

The Controlled Substances Act (CSA) portion of the 1970 Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act classified drugs in five categories based on the effect of the drug, its medical use, and potential for abuse. Schedule I contains drugs like heroin, which have no medical use but may be used in research. It is the most tightly controlled category.

Schedule II drugs have a high potential for abuse. They are accepted for medical use with restrictions. These drugs may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence. Barbiturates in this category are amobarbital (Amytal), pentobarbital (Nembutal), and secobarbital (Seconal, Tuinal).

Schedule III drugs have less of a potential for abuse than drugs in Schedules I and II. The drugs have a medical use. Abuse of these drugs may lead to “moderate or low psychological dependence or high psychological dependence,” according to the CSA. Barbiturates in this category are aprobarbital (Alurate) butabarbital (Busitol, Bubatel), and butibal (Fiorinal). A prescription may be filled up to five times during the six months after the first prescription was written.

Schedule IV drugs have a low abuse potential as compared to Schedule III drugs. These substances have an accepted medical use. They could lead to limited psychological or physical dependence, according to the CSA. The Schedule IV barbiturates are barbital (Veronel), mephobarbital (Mebaral), and phenobarbital (Luminal). Five prescription refills are allowed during the six months after the patient received the first prescription.

Penalties. Federal law prohibits the possession, use, and distribution of illegal drugs. The Controlled Substances Act established tighter controls on the manufacture and distribution of drugs like diet pills. Limits were set on the amounts of Schedule II pills that could be manufactured.

Procedure for the legal distribution of pills included the requirement of a written prescription for Schedule II drugs. An exception is made in emergencies.

For Schedule III and IV drugs, the prescription may be written or called into the pharmacy. Both the health care practitioner and pharmacist are required to keep records when prescriptions are filled for controlled drugs.

Trafficking. Trafficking is the illegal distribution of controlled drugs. Federal penalties for this crime can include fines and imprisonment. Sentencing is based on factors such as whether the trafficker is a first-time offender. Penalties are higher for a second offense. In addition, if the illegal distribution of a Schedule II drug results in death or serious injury, the convicted offender faces a prison term of from 20 years to life.

In cases where there is no serious injury or death, the penalties for a first-time offense are:

• Schedule II: Trafficking 100 grams or more of methamphetamine carries a prison term of from 10 years to life and a fine of up to $4 million.

• Schedule III drugs: Trafficking any quantity of these drugs is punishable by up to five years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000.

• Schedule IV drugs: Illegally distributing any quantity of these drugs carries a prison term of up to three years and a fine of up to $250,000.

Penalties for drug abusers. The federal penalty for the first-time offense of illegally possessing a controlled substance is up to one year in prison and a fine of from $1,000 to $100,000. Penalties are generally doubled for a second offense.

In some cases, a person may not receive a prison sentence. The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 imposes a civil penalty on the minor drug offender, the person possessing a small quantity of an illegal controlled substance. Possession of this quantity known as a “personal use amount” carries a fine of up to $10,000.

Drug laws in the United Kingdom. In the United Kingdom, substances are regulated by the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act and the 1986 Medicines Act. The 1971 act placed drugs in categories of A, B, or C. The A category contains the most dangerous drugs. The least dangerous drugs are in Category C.

The 1986 act established five medical schedules that are based on factors such as the therapeutic value of the drug. Another consideration is whether a prescription is required. Schedule 1 is the most strictly controlled category.

Barbiturates are a Class B drug unless the barbiturate is used in an injectable form. It then becomes a Class A drug.

The maximum penalty for possession of a Class B drug is five years of prison, an unlimited fine (of any amount), or prison and a fine. The maximum fine for supply (trafficking) is a 14-year prison term, an unlimited fine, or both penalties.

For Class A drugs, the penalty for possession is seven years in prison, an unlimited fine, or both. The supply penalty for this class, which includes cocaine and heroin, is life imprisonment, an unlimited fine, or both penalties.

 

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