Oxycodone is a powerful opiate drug prescribed for the relief of moderate and severe pain. It was first developed in 1916 and has a chemical structure similar to codeine. Oxycontin is the extended-release version of oxycodone and was introduced in the U.S. in 1996 under this brand name. Both drugs have the potential for severe abuse and dependence; in fact, many have described the levels of illegal use and addiction as an epidemic. People will also use oxycodone to help them relax and sleep, or to help reduce anxiety and depression and improve their mood. Street names for oxycodone are “oxycotton” or just “cotton,” “Hillbilly Heroin,” and “kicker.”
The drug is obtained illegally in many ways, but normally individuals visit a doctor who prescribes oxycodone after being provided a history of injury and severe pain. The word “on the street” usually spreads, causing other abusers and dealers to seek out this specific doctor or ones like him that readily prescribe the drug. At first, abusers would “doctor shop” by going to different doctors and getting multiple prescriptions close in time. But computerized record-keeping led to numerous arrests because doctor shopping is illegal and also easily discovered.
To better conceal their criminal activity, dealers began to take “road trips” – usually to Florida – to visit what are called “pill mills,” i.e., a doctor’s office, clinic, or health care facility that routinely prescribes large amounts of the drug. In one trip, a dealer and 4-5 friends could obtain over 1,000 pills of oxycodone with little overheard and a sure profit.
Florida became the “epicenter” of the “pill mill” epidemic when the DEA reported that in 2010, 90 of the top 100 oxycodone purchasing physicians in the nation were in the state. As a result, state authorities and the DEA have been aggressive in pursuing the street level dealers and their suppliers. The penalties under state and federal law are severe. For example, Ohio law states that a sale of 15 oxycodone 30 m.g. pills is a “bulk” amount. Therefore, the sale of 75 of these pills is 5x bulk, which is a felony of the second degree punishable by 8 years in prison. This amount, i.e., 5x bulk, is easy to prove if the Prosecutor can show that the dealer made one trip.
Recently, joint federal and state task forces have expanded their investigations to include the operators of the pill mills, as well as the doctors who prescribe the drug and the lawyers who assist in concealing the lucrative profits. In April of 2012, an alleged pill mill owner and 6 physicians were charged in federal court in Ohio for pocketing almost $7 million while operating a cash-only business of prescribing drugs to addicts at 3 pain clinics, including one in Ohio. In January of 2013, a Dublin, Ohio lawyer was charged with conspiracy to operate a pill mill and money laundering out of this same incident. All defendants, charged in federal court, face over 10 years in prison, including the forfeiture of millions of dollars in cash as well as assets purchased from the illegal gains.
Although the feds and state officials have cracked down on “pill mills” and the street level dealers, the illegal sale of oxy will most likely continue to a lesser degree in part because of the huge profits. But any doctor involved in the prescribing of said drug or any businessman operating a “pain clinic” needs to be vigilant and aware that law enforcement is watching you and your business. Excessive cash payments, patients who have travelled for distances, or lack of substantial proof of injury could be signs of an abuser or dealer of oxycodone.
No federal guidelines exist, so the business owner and physician should ensure that their actions are within the prevailing standards of the state where business is conducted.
Federal and Ohio state law enforcement agencies continue to crackdown on prescription drug offenses including charging doctors and other prescribers of narcotics with dealing of Oxycontin, as well as patients who may be considered as “doctor shopping” and buying prescription drugs “in bulk”, interstate drug trafficking or dealing prescription drugs. If you are facing Oxycontin or any other drug related charges including possession, dealing, interstate trafficking, and laundering drug money, it is important that you are represented by an experienced trial lawyer like Columbus, Ohio drug defense attorney W. Joseph Edwards. As a federal trial lawyer, attorney Edwards can handle drug charges involving both state and federal regulations.