Morphine: Legal consequences
Last modified: Saturday, 20. June 2009 - 1:10 pm
Legal consequences of Morphine
Under the Controlled Substances Act, morphine is a Schedule II drug. Doctors must be licensed by state medical authorities to prescribe it legally. They must also register with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and obtain a DEA number to use when writing the prescriptions. The DEA number helps keep track of how many prescriptions a doctor writes. Any trafficking in morphine — or any other Schedule II drug — results in federal penalties of up to 20 years. If death or serious injury results, the penalties for a first offense are 20 years to life and fines of up to $1 million. In 1988, the penalties were slightly changed: now those who are caught with only a small quantity of morphine face civil fines of up to $10,000.
Opium smoking in the United States spread with the immigration of Chinese workers in the western frontier — they built most of the train tracks, for instance — but it still was perfectly legal. In 1879, the Memphis, Tennessee public health agency targeted opium dens by making it illegal to sell, own, or borrow “opium or any deleterious drug” or the paraphernalia related to smoking them. Critics writing at the time pointed to the hypocrisy in denying the Chinese their accustomed comfort while white citizens could freely purchase morphine — indeed, could inhale, drink, or inject it. Not until 1909 did federal law outlaw smoking opium, and the agent itself.
Federal guidelines, regulations, and penalties
In 1914, the Harrison Narcotic Act outlawed heroin in the United States. The federal Controlled Substances Act of 1970 classified morphine as a Schedule II drug, which means it has potential for abuse but also accepted medical uses.
In 2000, Congress considered the Pain Relief Promotion Act, which would have amended the Controlled Substances Act to say that relieving pain or discomfort — within the context of professional medicine — is a legitimate use of controlled substances. The bill died in in the Senate. Sponsors of the bill plan to reintroduce it.
In the medical community, there is a growing awarness of the legitimate use of opiates to reduce pain. State medical boards are adopting new guidelines to reflect this, as well as to urge aggressive treatment for pain. These new guidelines allow physicians to document their reasons for using opiates.
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