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Is it expressly illegal to give even one pill of a prescription medicine you have to another person? If so, what law says this, and under what terms? If not, what are the minimum terms, for example, amount, before giving someone else your prescription medicine becomes a crime? And even then, how prosecutable / prosecuted is this? At what amount does one begin to see people actually arrested or charged with something? But hypothetically, might law enforcement still pursue and investigate an instance of sharing a very small amount, if they got a report saying it had happened?

This could be in any country, but I can specify the US if it needs a focus, but I prefer a global / international / comparative perspective.

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    This seems like a very rambling essay. Could you slaughter this down to about 1/10 of its current length? There needs to be a specific answerable question here or it'll be closed. Feb 9, 2023 at 3:11
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    Uh, yes, please cut it down by at least a factor or ten, this is unreadable. As for the question, I would assume the actual medicine (viagra vs morphine for example), the amount (possession vs intent of distribution) and whether the transfer was paid all come into play. If you are only interested in one of those scenarios, that would be another way to narrow it down.
    – nvoigt
    Feb 9, 2023 at 6:17
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    I edited the post to remove all but the first set of questions. You can ask other questions included originally, but they need to be broken out separately. The original question was far too sprawling and wide ranging for a single question.
    – ohwilleke
    Feb 9, 2023 at 10:56

2 Answers 2

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How illegal is it to give your prescription medicine to another person (in any amount)?

Under the conditions:

  • you are a private person
  • you are giving (not selling)

it is not, in itsself, illegal to give your prescription medicine to another person.


OLG Stuttgart, Beschluss vom 18.01.2012 - 4 Ss 664/11 - openJur

  1. Nur die berufs- oder gewerbsmäßige Abgabe von Arzneimitteln, die apothekenpflichtig oder von einem Arzt verschrieben worden sind, an Endverbraucher außerhalb von Apotheken unterliegt der Strafbarkeit nach §§ 95 Abs. Abs. 1 Nr. 4, 43 Abs. 3 Satz 1 AMG.

  2. Die Abgabe verschreibungspflichtiger Arzneimittel an Verbraucher ist nach § 96 Nr. 13 AMG nur strafbar, wenn der Handelnde Apotheker oder eine sonst zur Abgabe von Arzneimitteln befugte Person ist.

  3. Das Tatbestandsmerkmal der Berufs- oder Gewerbsmäßigkeit bezieht sich auf sämtliche Tathandlungen des § 97 Abs. 2 Nr. 10 AMG.

  4. Die unerlaubte Abgabe auf Grund ärztlicher Verschreibung erworbener Betäubungsmittel an einen Dritten ist nicht von § 4 Abs. 1 Nr. 3 a BtMG gedeckt.

3a: auf Grund ärztlicher, zahnärztlicher oder tierärztlicher Verschreibung,


  1. Only the professional or commercial sale of pharmaceuticals that are sold in pharmacies or have been prescribed by a doctor to end users outside of pharmacies is subject to criminal liability under Sections 95 (1) No. 4, 43 (3) sentence 1 AMG.

  2. According to § 96 No. 13 AMG, the supply of prescription drugs to consumers is only punishable if the person acting is a pharmacist or another person authorized to supply drugs.

  3. The constituent element of professional or commercial activity refers to all acts of § 97 para. 2 no. 10 AMG.

  4. The unauthorized supply of narcotics acquired on the basis of a doctor's prescription to a third party is not covered by § 4 Para. 1 No. 3 a BtMG.

3a: on the basis of a medical, dental or veterinary prescription,


Sources:

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Is it expressly illegal to give even one pill of a prescription medicine you have to another person?

If the drug is a controlled substance under state or federal laws, yes. If not, sometimes under state law and sometimes not.

For example, it would probably not be a crime to give one pill of a prescription medicine you have to another person if the pill is actually a placebo and doesn't purport to be a controlled substance.

If so, what law says this, and under what terms? If not, what are the minimum terms, for example, amount, before giving someone else your prescription medicine becomes a crime? And even then, how prosecutable / prosecuted is this?

Many prescription drugs are controlled substances in the United States. The type of drug, the amount of the drug and the capacity in which it is distributed impact the offense in question and the sentence if convicted, so a simple answer isn't possible.

I'll provide some examples that would be typical in the U.S. without singling out any specific examples under particular statutes, although my sense of what is normal is derived in part from two criminal defense lawyer friends of mine who often defend people accused of controlled substances offenses, one in Boulder, Colorado, who practices mostly in state courts, and one in metropolitan Denver, Colorado, who practices mostly in federal court. This does not fully reflect new state laws in Colorado that made state drug sentences more lenient (except for fentanyl) in the last several years, since these reductions are not typical of the United States as a whole.

There are also parallel state and federal crimes for the same offense with different sentences under their respective controlled substances acts, and sentences vary considerably from one U.S. state to another.

But, for example, it wouldn't be unusual if providing half a month's supply of amphetamine salts (brand name Adderall) or an opioid painkiller, like Percocet, could expose the person providing it to someone without a prescription to exposure to something on the order of three to ten years in prison. The required level of intent that must be proven is often very modest.

Usually, a skilled criminal defense attorney for an affluent middle class criminal defendant, like a college student, can secure a plea bargain with alternative sentencing like incarceration, a heavy fine, and drug treatment, for a first time offender with no other criminal record. But for someone less well heeled and less well represented, draconian sentences for selling prescription drugs would not be exceptional.

Also, a criminal defense attorney will often have more negotiating power if you can turn someone else in, and will have less ability to negotiate a lower sentence for you if you can't. So, low level offenders acting alone often have less negotiating leverage in plea bargaining than mid-level completely illicit drug dealers.

Sentences would be enhanced for sales made while armed with a weapon, sales made to children or in areas frequented by children, for a prior criminal record, and worst of all if someone dies of an overdose of the drug.

For example, if someone with a Percocet prescription provided someone with ten pills and that person overdosed and died, a sentence of many decades in prison on a homicide conviction, in addition to the drug dealing conviction, possibly served consecutively, would be commonplace. In that situation, a combined fifteen years would be a light sentence, twenty-five to thirty years would be typical, and life in prison would be a long sentence but not particularly exceptional.

Collateral Consequences Of A Conviction

There would also be "collateral consequences" of a conviction for a controlled substance offense.

Even a misdemeanor conviction would disqualify you from receiving financial aid for college, which as a practical matter would make it financially impossible for most non-affluent people to earn more than a two year community college degree. It would also make it likely that you would not be able to be licensed as a doctor, nurse, pharmacist, lawyer, law enforcement officer, or in the state legalized marijuana industry.

A felony conviction would likely lead to your deportation at the end of your sentence if you are not a U.S. citizen. It would disqualify you from ever owning or possessing a firearm. It would bar you from serving as a notary public. It would be you from entering most licensed professions. It would bar you from voting in many states. It would be grounds to refuse to rent an apartment to you or to refuse to hire you for all manner of jobs. The conviction could be used to impeach your testimony if you were called as a witness in any kind of lawsuit including a criminal prosecution against you where you would like to testify on your own behalf to prove your innocence. It would be likely to make any future conviction you had for a felony carry a more severe sentence.

At what amount does one begin to see people actually arrested or charged with something? But hypothetically, might law enforcement still pursue and investigate an instance of sharing a very small amount, if they got a report saying it had happened?

It would not be at all unusual for there to be a prosecution over one to two pills (especially if you are poor and are not white and Anglo), although in that quantity, the charge would usually be either a misdemeanor, or the lowest level possible drug felony, with typical maximum sentences of six months to a couple of years in prison depending upon the details of the charge.

Whether the transfer is gratuitous or for money is usually irrelevant to whether or not you will be convicted of the crime, but it may be a mitigating factor that the judge can consider when deciding what sentence to impose.

Of course, you can only be prosecuted if you are caught.

The current focus of drug enforcement, highlighted in the President's State of the Union address is fentanyl, an extremely concentrated opioid that has caused tens of thousands of overdose deaths in the U.S. each year, often when it is cut with another drug and not disclosed. It is sometimes used as anesthesia for large animals like cows, buffalos and elephants. Medicinally, it is often used for severely painful conditions (e.g., passing kidney stones), and to conduct certain procedures (e.g., colonoscopies). Even a gratuitous transfer of a gram or two of fentanyl obtained pursuant to a valid prescription to someone who doesn't have a prescription for it is extremely likely to result in a felony controlled substances offense prosecution, and a sentence of multiple years in prison.

As of 2022, about 45% of inmates in federal prisons (about 67,000) are serving time for drug offenses, another 21,000 are in jail for federal drug offenses, about 146,000 are in state prisons for drug offenses, about 113,000 are in jail for state drug offenses, and about 2,500 are in juvenile dentition centers for drug offenses, and a small additional number are incarcerated in tribal jails, military detention facilities, or U.S. territories for drug offenses. (Source). Thus, at any given time there are about 450,000 people in jail or prison in the U.S. for drug offenses, and that doesn't include something on the order of 900,000 to 1,000,000 additional people who are on probation or parole for drug offenses. It also doesn't include thousands of non-U.S. citizens who have finished drug crime sentences and are in immigration detention awaiting deportation. There are more people serving sentences for drug offenses in the U.S. per capita, than most countries have serving sentences for all types of crimes combined per capita.

Most of these offenses are for non-prescription illicit drugs, but the proportion of controlled substances convictions involving prescription drugs sold to people without prescriptions is rapidly increasing, mostly as a result of rising levels of opioid addiction and amphetamine use. So, the risk of being prosecuted and convicted for transferring a prescription drug that is a controlled substance is not at all hypothetical.

Prescriptions That Are Not Controlled Substances

On the other hand, possession or the gratuitous transfer of a prescription drug that is not a controlled substance, such as a skin cream for treating acne that is more potent than what can be purchased over the counter, would only occasionally be prosecuted and would usually be a misdemeanor at most unless the volume of illegal transfers was at a commercial scale.

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    Nice edit to the question. Perhaps consider a similar edit to your answer?! Feb 9, 2023 at 17:37
  • @MichaelHall Putting myself in the shoes of someone who might be considering doing this, I think it is valuable to put more rather than less data out there. It did add some emphasis of key points for people who are impatient to get to the bottom line.
    – ohwilleke
    Feb 17, 2023 at 19:35
  • What are the realistic risks of being arrested, prosecuted, etc. for a drug offense I commit? Like let's say I share marijuana with my friend, are the cops going to come bust down my door?
    – moonman239
    Feb 17, 2023 at 19:48
  • @moonman239 "let's say I share marijuana with my friend, are the cops going to come bust down my door?" Impossible to know and highly circumstance specific. But, if the cops know it is happening, quite high in most places (although marijuana in places where it is state legalized is largely an exception).
    – ohwilleke
    Feb 17, 2023 at 19:56

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