16 June 2008

Drug Schedules: Should We Base Our Punishments Upon Them?

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.


Windypundit said...

Snorting acetaminophen? I hope you're making that up. Do they do that to get high? Or is that just filler used to cut something else?

Ken Lammers said...

A lot of pills have acetaminophen in them as well as the primary ingredient. They grind the pill and snort the whole thing.

Anonymous said...

Your suggestion is pretty useless if you ask me. It does nothing to fix the unfair drug laws in this country. First I think that you really exaggerated about the dihydrocodeinone thing and people being held up at the Quickie Mart. Its not Heroin. Anyways, the laws don't make sense, tell me this, Why do they weigh the whole pill such as Vicodin in which 75% of the pill is tylenol so 20 vicodins will come out over 14 grams which is trafficking and carries a mandatory sentence, when you have a stronger pill that is smaller and weighs less on the scale so that person would be charged with possession for the same 20 pills and do a much less sentence? Does this make sense to you as an attorney and as a person? Cause it sure as hell doesn't to me. And why are you so against the legalize thing? I guess cause you would lose serious business. Why is it okay for people to go sit at a bar and get shit faced and some of them start acting like real idiots and some violent, but it is considered so bad if your taking pills but drinking a diet coke? Stop and think for a second and question these things. No one has to agree with me at all, thats not my point. I just see so much hypocrisy with the whole drug laws and all of it. So many of these laws are made by people that doing more drugs than you could imagine!!! These things need to be discussed seriously because I bet most people don't even know the truth about these laws and that they exist.

Donte Russo said...

Some of these drugs can cause a psychotic behavior that is why they are illegal without a prescription. Yes the laws are in my opinion unjustly harsh but I think we are far away from legalizing these drugs. Marijuana I don’t think would be a problem but there would still be a problem with the rest.