Back in the early 70's the federal government developed a set of "schedules" for drugs. A number of States adopted these schedules as well and governments began using them as a way to determine how possession/distribution of different drugs should be punished.
The schedules are generally broken down by three factors: medical use, potential abuse, and addictive qualities. Schedule I is where the drugs with no medical use, high abuse potential, and highly addictive qualities are categorized. Schedule II is where drugs of medical use, high abuse potential, and highly addictive qualities are categorized. Schedule III is where drugs of medical use, lower abuse potential, and moderate physical / strong psychological dependence. And the schedules continue downward. Examples of the top three would be LSD (I), cocaine(II), and ketamine (III).
It is an imperfect system, but one that always seemed - at least to me - to work. You could argue whether something belonged in I or II, but generally you knew something belonged in one of the two and, at least under Virginia law, the punishment is the same for possessing/dealing I or II. Then, I moved out to the mountains.
Everyone assumes the problem out here is methamphetamine. As far as I can tell, the only effect methamphetamine has had out here is that sudafed doesn't work anymore. There may be places, in the Appalachian Mountains where it is a major problem, just not immediately around here. The problem here is pills.
And this is where I wonder if the schedules and their application couldn't use a little tuning. Between schedules I/II and schedules III there is a dropoff in punishment under Virginian law. Dealing a schedule I/II drug carries up to 40 years (1st offense), up to life (2d offense), or 5 years to life (3d+ offense). Dealing a schedule III drug carries up to 10 years.
The problem is that - with pills - dealing, abuse, and death from OD's seem to happen with schedule III's as often as schedule I/II. Users/dealers seem to use, and sometimes mix, pills from across the schedules. It seems that people are abusing dihydrocodeinone (III) - or lately buprenorphine (III) - as often as oxycodone or methadone. We even see people using alprazolam (sched. IV) recreationally.
So, what's the solution? I'm not sure. And before anyone says "legalization", thanks but no thanks. We don't need the market flooded with more drugs for more people to OD on. Possibly, the General Assembly could be availed upon to pass a specific "pill abuse" statute. Something with punishment along the lines of up to 10 years, first distribution offense; 2 - 20 years, second distribution offense; and 5 - 40 years third distribution offense. It's nowhere near a perfect solution, but I'm not in the business of perfect solutions. I'm in the business of trying to protect the citizenry - both the night clerk at the Quikie-Mart who's getting robbed by people hopped up on dihydrocodeinone and the addict who is going to ruin his liver by snorting all that acetaminophen (if he lives that long) - and I've only got certain tools. Hopefully, the knowledge of attached punishment will nudge society away from this particular abuse. Hopefully, other steps would be taken to make this kind of abuse societally unacceptable. I know it's a long shot, but we've already failed if we choose not to try.