The media has been widely reporting on the current epidemic facing the United States in terms of addiction and overdose deaths due to heroin use. What has been reported less widely, however, is the link between prescription painkillers and how their use may lead to addiction. Many people who are currently addicted to opioids, including the illegal drugs heroin and its synthetic counterparts such as fentanyl, may have become addicted first to a prescription painkiller. This is an important area to clarify and explore because beyond the high risk of death by overdose, an addiction that culminates in illegal drug use can lead to arrest and the potential for a conviction that may carry a heavy prison sentence.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse cited three studies in which researchers surveyed young people who injected heroin. The cited studies revealed that almost half of those surveyed said they had previously abused prescription opioids (this can include well-known prescription painkillers marketed under the brand names Oxycontin®, Vicodin®, and Demerol®).

Heroin possession in New York can be a felony

People who become addicted to prescription painkillers and then move on to abuse illegal drugs may become entangled with law enforcement and the criminal justice system. Knowingly possessing any amount of heroin is automatically a Class A misdemeanor under New York State law, and can become a felony under different conditions, depending on the amount in a user’s possession and his or her intent. When it comes to addicted users of an illegal drug such as heroin who originally started out taking opioid painkillers with a legitimate, doctor-issued prescription, coming into contact with the legal system can be bewildering. 

An attorney can develop a specific defense strategy

Working with a qualified criminal defense attorney can be a wise choice if a person is charged with a major drug crime. An attorney who has experience in major drug charges, especially felony offenses that can result from charges of possession of heroin, may use a combination of experience gained in the courtroom and specialized knowledge of a state’s drug laws to devise a defense strategy suited to the particular defendant’s case. With the increase in these types of crimes due to the opioid crisis in the United States, it is important for those charged with a major drug felony to know they can seek a specialized defense strategy from a qualified criminal defense attorney.