President Trump's commission on the opioid epidemic called for sweeping reforms to anti-drug policies this week, including
- Tougher prison sentences for certain kinds of opioid trafficking
- Expansion of "drug courts," which channel people accused of drug crimes towards addiction treatment, rather than imprisonment
- Better training for medical professionals who prescribe prescription opioids
- Expanded access to addiction treatments such as methadone
The commission's report included over 50 recommendations. It is uncertain which, if any, of these recommendations will be followed or how it will affect those accused of drug crimes in the near future.
What is clear is that the nation as a whole is struggling to address what President Trump has called an opioid "public health emergency."
The Opioid Epidemic in Washington
The state of Washington and individual Washington cities (including Seattle and Tacoma) have filed lawsuits against opioid-manufacturing pharmaceutical companies in recent months.
The lawsuits claim that pharmaceutical companies made false claims about the safety and long-term effectiveness of their drugs. The lawsuits also claim that the companies ignored the risks of addiction and overdose associated with prescription opioid use, resulting in "the deaths of Washingtonians and devastation to Washington families."
The statistics cited by the Washington State Office of the Attorney General show the enormous scope of Washington's opioid problem:
- Sales and prescriptions for opioids in Washington increased more than 500% between 1997 and 2011
- 112 million daily doses of prescription opioids were dispensed in Washington in one year. That's enough for every single man, woman, and child living in Washington to have a 16-day supply of prescription opioids.
- In 2015, the number of overdose deaths in Washington exceeded deaths from car accidents and firearm deaths. More than 6 out of 10 of those deaths were due to opioids.
- Nearly 80% of heroin users said they used prescription opioids prior to using heroin.
Another wave of similar lawsuits were filed this week against pharmaceutical companies over their alleged role in the nationwide opioid epidemic. Alaska, New Jersey, and individual counties in several other states filed lawsuits.
Does this affect people accused of drug crimes in Washington?
Washington and other states are trying a variety of approaches to the opioid epidemic. For example, Seattle is considering creating safe injection sites where people addicted to heroin or other opioids can inject drugs under medical supervision. Nearby Oregon decriminalized possession of small quantities of certain drugs, including heroin.
Despite heightened local and national awareness of the opioid crisis, possession of even small quantities of opioids remains illegal in Washington state. In Washington, a drug crime is often referred to as a VUCSA, which stands for Violation of the Uniform Controlled Substance Act. These crimes are taken very seriously.
For example, possession of a small amount of heroin is considered a Class C felony, punishable by up to five years in jail and $10,000. Drug crimes involving Oxycodone/Oxycontin can result in a Class B felony, which is punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment and fines over $100,000.
If you are arrested for a drug crime in Washington, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney like Steve Karimi to help you fight the charges. Contact him today!