The Drug Enforcement Agency has moved hydrocodone combination products (HCPs), a popular prescription drug for managing pain, from Schedule III to more restrictive Schedule II. HCPs are combinations of hydrocodone, an opioid,  and other painkillers or substances, including acetaminophen. Hydrocodone itself has been in Schedule II since the Controlled Substances Act’s inception.

The DEA is citing a high number of overdoses from prescription painkillers as the reason behind the move. Schedule II substances have been determined to have a high potential for abuse with potential for severe physiological and/or psychological dependence. Schedule III substances have a lesser potential for abuse with moderate to low physiological and/or psychological dependence.

The decision follows the trend of the government “cracking down” on prescription drug abuse. The media has been full of horror stories in recent years of teenagers using substances available from pharmacists instead of illegal substances like cocaine and heroin.

The change means that hydrocodone combination products may be more complicated to obtain by patients. For instance, a doctor can rarely use an oral prescription for a Schedule II drug. A patient may need to just through more hoops if prescribed an HCP for pain management.

It also has implications for federal criminal law. The maximum penalty for trafficking a Schedule II substance (20 years in prison, with a fine up to $1 million) is twice the maximum for trafficking a Schedule III drug (10 years, with a fine up to $500,000).

The change only applies to cases heard in federal court. Most drug cases, including possession cases, are tried under state law. Under the Nevada Controlled Substances Act, hydrocodone combination products remain under Schedule III. However, state law on controlled substances in regards to what substances are illegal and how severe they are judge to be, with some notable exceptions, like medical marijuana.

The Board of Pharmacy may make similar findings as the DEA and move HCPs into Schedule II. Like with federal law, this has some implications on state drug law. Most drug charges in Las Vegas and Clark County are tried under state law.

Unlawful possession for sale of any Schedule III substance charges are a Category D felony for a second offense and a Category C felony for a third or subsequent offense. The same charges for a Schedule II substance are a Category C felony for a second offense and a Category B felony for a third or subsequent offense.

Whether or not this change may seem substantial, they reflect a more punitive and aggressive stance by the federal government, which often sets the trend for state governments. If you face charges for any crime relating to controlled substances in Clark County, immediately contact a Las Vegas drug defense lawyer.

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