Addiction may be a personal health issue, but our society treats it like a criminal matter. Despite plenty of evidence that addiction has roots in both psychological trauma and physical dependence on a substance, people who struggle with addiction still get arrested and wind up in jail.
In recent years, the number of people in the United States abusing narcotic painkillers has increased substantially. In fact, in 2016, the number of people who died due to opiate, opioid or heroin overdoses surpassed the number of gun deaths in this country. Many people are now referring to narcotic addiction as an epidemic, and they are not wrong.
However, the way that our country has chosen to address this issue may well make things worse. Anyone caught abusing or illegally possessing prescription narcotic painkillers in Texas could face very serious criminal penalties. The criminal consequences and social stigma that result from a drug arrest may serve to keep people addicted and unable to move into healthier life patterns.
Texas has harsh penalties for those struggling with addiction
Narcotic drugs belong in penalty group one, which means that charges for these drugs have more serious consequences than certain other substances. Possession of less than one gram is a state jail felony. Those caught with between one and four grams will face 3rd degree felony charges, while those in possession of between four and 200 will likely face second degree felony charges.
The more the overall weight of the drugs the in the possession of the person arrested, the higher the rank of the charges and, consequently, the potential criminal penalties. It's important to understand that just because the drugs are prescription doesn't mean it's legal to possess them.
If you buy the medication from someone else or use another person's prescription, that is a violation of the state's controlled substances law. Even possessing and using the pills in a manner that differs from what the doctor recommended could be grounds for criminal charges.
Strict enforcement of narcotic prohibition hasn't decreased demand
Law enforcement and lawmakers seem to believe that simply passing a law can help those struggling with addiction. They have increased the pressure on local communities to identify drug users and arrest them. Judges are more likely to hand down harsh sentences for narcotic possession or for sale and delivery out of a desire to stem the rising tide of addiction.
Unfortunately, these practices create additional stigma that may reinforce the root causes of addiction in some people. They also result in people going to prison, where addiction could likely continue or worsen. Those struggling with addiction to prescription painkillers likely require counseling and substance abuse therapy, not jail time.
Anyone caught in possession of narcotic painkillers may need to carefully consider their options for mitigating the fallout of that arrest. For those without previous charges, treatment and drug court may be an option.