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From persistent back pain or nerve damage to rheumatoid arthritis, chronic pain can have a significant impact on an individual’s quality of life and ability to work. According to the CDC, around 50 million adults experience chronic pain in the U.S. Of that number, about 20 million live with pain that makes it difficult to perform day-to-day activities.

In the past, many doctors have prescribed opioid-based medications to help patients manage pain. However, the recent opioid epidemic and concerns about the potential for addiction have led many physicians to refuse or abruptly discontinue prescriptions for patients who have relied on such medications for years to address their pain.

Unfortunately, as a recent article in the New York Times highlights, doing so may put individuals at risk for acute withdrawal, heightened pain, depression, anxiety and suicide. Equally unfortunately, these patients often turn to questionable sources, including online pharmacies with dubious credentials but sleek, professional-looking websites. In addition to running the risk of receiving counterfeit or toxic products, individuals who do so may violate federal law.

Pennsylvania prescription drug possession penalties

Unless an individual has a valid, doctor-issued prescription, the DEA strictly prohibits the purchase of controlled substances, including painkillers like Oxycontin or Vicodin. Online pharmacies that do not require a prescription are not operating in accordance with the law, potentially putting buyers at risk of becoming involved in a criminal investigation.

Under Pennsylvania law, possession of such drugs without a legitimate prescription may result in up to one year in prison or a $5,000 fine, possibly both. Possession of significant quantities of a controlled substance may also lead to a felony charge of intent to distribute, which may carry a sentence of up to 15 years imprisonment and a fine of up to $250,000.

Facing prescription drug charges

It can be all too easy for even a relatively minor drug conviction to upend an individual’s life, especially when he or she is already struggling with chronic pain or addiction. An attorney experienced in prescription drug cases may be able to help those facing charges that could lead to devastating personal and professional consequences for years to come.