Selling Oxycontin/Oxycodone: Penalties, Laws, and Defense

The distribution of narcotics like oxycontin can result in significant prison terms and fines for the offender. A sizeable operation of distribution, the penalties can quickly escalate.

Nicknamed “hillbilly heroin” for the similarity of its effects to that opiate, oxycodone (brand name OxyContin) is not legal for recreational use in the U.S. The unauthorized sale of oxycodone or OxyContin is a crime under federal law and the laws of all fifty states.

This article is about U.S. law in general regarding trafficking in this controlled substance.

For more information on state laws dealing with the sale of controlled substances, see Sale of a Controlled Substance.

What is Oxycodone?

Oxycodone is a synthesized opiate prescribed by physicians to treat pain. OxyContin is the brand name given to oxycodone by Purdue Pharma for an oral version of the prescription drug. Oxycodone is also sold under the brand names Percocet and Percodan, among others. Oxycodone is distributed in tablet form.

The drug was first developed in 1916 in Germany and resulted from an effort to find pain medicine that was as effective as traditional opiates such as morphine, but less addictive. However, the drug has proven to be very addictive. According to the Center for Disease Control, three-quarters of all of the deaths from pharmaceutical drug overdose (more than 16,600 people) in 2010 involved opioid pharmaceutical drugs like oxycodone.

Any form of the drug oxycodone is a controlled substance under federal law and use of the drug is legal only with a prescription from an authorized medical care provider. (21 U.S.C. § 802.)

Controlled Substances Act

Oxycodone is a Schedule II controlled substance under the federal Controlled Substances Act. (21 U.S.C. § 812.) A Schedule II drug is one with a currently-accepted medical use with a high potential for abuse and significant risk of addiction. (21 U.S.C. § 812 (C) (2).) The federal government heavily regulates the manufacture, possession, and distribution of Schedule II drugs.

Selling vs. possession

Possession of oxycodone or OxyContin without a valid prescription is a crime, but selling, or possessing with intent to sell without authorization, is a felony and the penalty is much greater than for simple possession. Where a person is caught with oxycodone but not in the act of selling it, the prosecution must prove that he had the intent to sell it in order to convict him of the more serious crime. (21U.S.C. §841.)

A person convicted of attempting or conspiring to sell oxycodone or OxyContin is subject to the same penalties as a person convicted of making an actual sale of the drug. (21 U.S.C. § 846.)

Intent to sell

Most drug trafficking charges arise in situations without “smoking gun” evidence of a secretly-recorded drug deal—the “sting” situation where a defendant is caught (often on tape) offering drugs for sale to an undercover officer is relatively rare. As a result, the prosecution usually must rely on circumstantial evidence of the defendant’s intent to sell oxycodone or OxyContin. This is because most defendants will deny that they intended to sell the drug and possessed it only for personal use (which carries a lesser penalty).

Circumstantial evidence of intent to sell a controlled substance like oxycodone includes:

  • amount of the drug in the defendant’s possession,
  • purity of the drug (purer drugs can be sold to other dealers to “cut” or dilute with other substances and re-sell),
  • drug packaging or other paraphernalia indicating dealing, and
  • large amounts of cash from sales.

For example, a person busted with 5,000 OxyContin tablets, a few cartons of plastic sandwich bags, and stacks of $100 bills in his car is going to have a hard time convincing a judge or jury that he possessed the drug for personal use.

Sale or attempted sale near a school or other facility

Under the Controlled Substances Act, a person convicted of selling or attempting to sell oxycodone or OxyContin near a school, including a college, or other areas where young people may be present faces twice the maximum prison sentence, twice the maximum fine, and twice the term of supervised release. (21 U.S.C. 860.)

A person is subject to the enhanced penalties if he or she is convicted of selling or attempting to sell the drug within:

  • 1,000 feet of a public or private elementary, vocational, or secondary school
  • 1,000 feet of a public or private college, junior college, or university
  • 1,000 feet of a playground, or public housing facility, or
  • 100 feet of a public or private youth center, public swimming pool, or video arcade. (21 U.S.C. § 860.)

The proximity to any of the above facilities is measured from the location of the sale or attempted sale and “the real property” of the facility. Many schools and universities cover acres of land and a drug sale with the specified distance of any edge of that property can lead to the enhanced penalty.

For example, if a dealer sets up a meeting with a buyer in a patch of woods that just happens to abut the edge of a university’s intramural soccer fields, the dealer could face the doubled penalties if convicted of the sale.

How is Selling Oxycodone/OxyContin Punished?

Under federal sentencing guidelines, a person convicted of selling or attempting to sell oxycodone or OxyContin may face five to 20 years in prison, a $250,000 to $5 million fine, or both. As mentioned above, if the defendant is convicted of selling or attempting to sell the drug near a school or one of the other specified facilities, the penalty (both in years in prison and in fine) doubles. And, if anyone dies as a result of the drug sale (from overdose or otherwise), the defendant may face life in prison.

See a Lawyer

As should be clear, selling or attempting to sell oxycodone or OxyContin is a very serious crime. If you have been investigated for or charged with the crime, you should see a lawyer immediately. Only an experienced criminal defense lawyer who is familiar with federal or state law (depending on which law applies) will be able to advise you as to the strength of the case against you and the availability of any defenses.

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