Dangerous Drug Law

U.S. dangerous drug laws categorize illicit drugs and prescription and over-the-counter medications based on their risk of dependency and death. Mandatory minimum laws are also attached to dangerous drugs which determine charges and sentencing. Dangerous drug laws also require that the manufacturers of medications prove that their drug does not pose unreasonable risks of illness, injury, or death when used according to labeled instructions.

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Aug 9, 2021

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  • Dangerous drug laws classify different controlled substances based on their risk of abuse and addiction
  • There are a number of different issues that can make a drug dangerous, including the likelihood of becoming dependent on the substance or encountering a drug that was defectively manufactured or distributed
  • Individuals who have been injured by a defective drug can seek compensation through a product liability lawsuit

Healthcare providers in the U.S. write nearly 3 billion prescriptions a year. Many of them involve narcotic medications that are commonly used for pain relief. While the FDA approves these medications for consumer use, it does not mean that all of them are safe to use.

There are unreasonable risks involved with medications, including illicit street drugs, prescription medications, and defective over-the-counter medications. Read our guide on dangerous drug laws now to learn more about why some drugs are classified as dangerous and how federal and state laws impact medical healthcare professionals.

If you have been injured by a defective drug, seek compensation for the expenses and psychological impacts of your injury. A product liability lawyer with experience in dangerous drug law can provide a number of legal services aimed at getting you the compensation you deserve. Enter your ZIP code above to get in touch with an affordable liability attorney in your area for free.

How do U.S. dangerous drug laws classify narcotics?

The legal dangerous drug definition is determined when the federal government deems the narcotic as unsafe for self-use, or use by children or animals. Some dangerous drugs are explicitly illegal while others require a prescription from a licensed medical professional.

What is classified as a dangerous drug is determined by its risk of dependency and death, and each type of dangerous drug comes with mandatory minimum laws that dictate criminal charges and sentencing.

Narcotics are categorized based on state and federal dangerous drug laws, and the U.S. classifies dangerous drugs in five different categories, known as schedules:

  • Schedule I: drugs with a high risk of abuse and no accepted medical use, including heroin and LSD
  • Schedule II: drugs with a high risk of abuse, some of which can be prescribed medically, including Vicodin, cocaine, methamphetamine, methadone, oxycodone, fentanyl, Adderall, and Ritalin
  • Schedule III: drugs with a low-to-moderate risk for abuse or addiction, including Tylenol with codeine, ketamine, anabolic steroids, and testosterone
  • Schedule IV: prescription drugs with a low risk of misuse or dependence, including Xanax, Soma, Valium, and Ambien
  • Schedule V: prescription drugs with very little to no risk for dependence, including antidiarrheals, antitussives, and analgesics

As of 2021, 37 states have legalized marijuana for medicinal or recreational use. Marijuana is still considered a Schedule I substance by the federal government, and you may face possession charges if you travel out of state, even with a valid prescription from your doctor. If you’re being charged with possession of medical marijuana, speak with a dangerous drug lawyer immediately to learn your rights.

What are the consequences of possessing or distributing illegal narcotics?

Under criminal law, individuals who are caught possessing or distributing illegal substances (Schedule I) or controlled substances (Schedule II) without a prescription face a number of penalties upon criminal conviction, including fines, court fees, and potential incarceration. If you’re facing possession charges, hiring a criminal defense lawyer is in your best interest.

Medical providers caught using or providing individuals with prescription narcotics also face professional consequences, including suspension of their DEA registration and their medical license.

Health providers can also face a medical malpractice claim, the most common of which involve medical errors. For example, when a doctor or healthcare provider fails to follow or simply ignores the DEA’s requirements for prescribing controlled substances, they can be held liable for any harm that happens to their patient.

Holding healthcare professionals and pharmaceutical companies responsible for inappropriate prescriptions becomes more relevant when nearly six percent of Americans over the age of 20 have taken a prescription opioid medication in the past thirty days, usually prescribed as a pain reliever after surgery.

While both medical and illegal opioids are considered Schedule II Substances, the legal system has been slow to recognize the dangers of medical opioids. Of the estimated 10.1 million individuals who abused opioid medications in the past year, 9.7 million were misusing prescription medications, compared to 745,000 who were using heroin.

If you’ve been injured by prescription pain medication, hire a dangerous drug attorney to help you plan your next best steps forward.

What are health care providers required to do to control the distribution of dangerous drugs?

In addition to providing the schedules for drug classifications, the U.S. Controlled Substances Act (CSA) and Dangerous Drug Act in nursing puts forth a comprehensive set of requirements regarding the distribution of dangerous prescription drugs by health care providers.

Every health care provider who prescribes or administers Schedule II substances must be registered with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).

Prescriptions for narcotics can only be issued for a legitimate medical purpose by a registered healthcare provider. In order to prescribe a controlled substance, the following information must be provided:

  • Issue date
  • Name of the patient
  • Name, address, and DEA registration number of the provider
  • The drug name
  • The strength of the drug
  • Dosage forms, such as tablet or suspension
  • Quantity prescribed
  • Directions for use
  • Refills, if any
  • Signature of the provider writing the prescription

Prescriptions for Schedule II substances can only be done over the phone in emergencies and a written copy of the prescription must be provided within 7 days of the phone-in. Prescriptions can be made electronically or in writing, but can only be faxed to the pharmacy if the original, signed prescription is made available before the drug is provided to the patient.

Is it possible to sue someone for selling you dangerous illicit drugs?

Drugs sold outside of the accepted legal channels do not have to undergo the rigid testing that is required for FDA approval, so there is no way to prove a drug dealer is liable to your specific injuries. Drug dealers also do not purchase insurance to protect their business or provide compensation to individuals who have been injured or made ill from using their product.

It is possible to file a personal injury lawsuit against this person with the help of a criminal lawyer, and you may even obtain a judgment in your favor. However, you’re unlikely to collect compensation from someone who doesn’t have insurance and operates outside of the law.

Fortunately, some states have implemented a Drug Dealer Liability Act to combat the portion of the opioid epidemic that involves the sale of illegal narcotics or medications that generally require a prescription to obtain.

This type of dangerous drug law establishes a form of “market liability” wherein legal teams aren’t responsible for identifying all parties in the manufacturing chain of the drug. The claimant only has to prove that the drug dealer was distributing illegal drugs in the community where the claimant lives and that the drugs he or she was distributing were the same type that caused the claimant’s injury.

However, suing a healthcare provider or a pharmaceutical company for damages you incurred from a prescription will play out differently. Typically, the remedy for harm from a dangerous drug of this magnitude will manifest as a large class-action lawsuit where a single attorney or team of lawyers will seek compensation for a large group of victims.

A recent legal agreement between medical distributors and pharmaceutical companies may make class-action suits impossible. If approved by the courts, the agreement will release the involved parties from liability in the U.S. opioid epidemic in return for a $26 billion settlement. This settlement will not be distributed to the victims. Rather, the money will be invested in communities for addiction and preventive services.

What compensation can I receive in a dangerous drug claim?

Individuals who have become injured due to the use of a dangerous or defective drug can generally seek compensation from the insurance providers for the at-fault parties. Compensation can include:

  • Medical expenses involved in the treatment of the injury or illness
  • Lost wages associated with being too injured or ill to work or missing work in order to attend related medical appointments
  • Loss of future earning capacity if the defective drug resulted in permanent deficits and you are no longer able to work in the same capacity as you did before
  • Physical pain and suffering resulting from treatments involved in medically caring for the injury or illness
  • Emotional distress resulting from being injured by medication and the associated negative impacts on your quality of life

Depending on your situation, you may still have a claim. You can still pursue compensation for defective manufacturing or packaging, so consult with a local attorney about how dangerous drug laws apply to your case and whether or not you qualify for a product liability claim.

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How do U.S. dangerous drug laws impact my product liability claim?

Prescriptions and illicit street drugs are not the only danger-producing sources of medications. There are over 80 classes of over-the-counter (OTC) medications readily available to U.S. consumers that don’t require a prescription yet are high-risk for addiction and death.

To protect consumers, some state dangerous drug laws prohibit minors from purchasing certain OTC drugs, such as pseudoephedrine-containing medications that are often combined with other drugs and used illegally.

Other risks come from the defective drugs that are found on the same shelves as your typical OTC medications. An example of this is Zantac, a medication that was originally only available by prescription to treat acid indigestion and heartburn. It was quickly made accessible as an over-the-counter remedy. Then in 2020, Zantac was removed from store shelves after studies of the medication found high amounts of a contaminant known as N-Nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA), which is a probable human carcinogen.

What are the different types of product liability claims? Besides causing cancer, several different types of drug defects can give rise to product liability claims, including:

  • Manufactured pharmaceutical drugs that experience a defect during the manufacturing process, such as where the drug was made and bottled, during shipping, or in producing the labeling instructions for the product.
  • Pharmaceutical drugs that produce an abnormally high risk or are associated with an abnormally severe side effect.
  • Improperly marketed pharmaceutical drugs where the manufacturer did not disclose the known risks of taking the medication or failed to provide adequate instructions for the appropriate administration, storage, and disposal of the medication.

Product liability in a dangerous drug case encompasses more than just the commercial entity that developed and manufactured the drug. Who can be sued in a defective product lawsuit can vary based on the type of injuries sustained and the type of lawsuit being pursued.

Other potential sources of liability in defective drug claims include:

  • The testing laboratory which exists to ensure the safety of the product
  • Pharmaceutical drug sales representatives who make recommendations regarding the uses and risks of the drug they are selling
  • The doctor or other healthcare provider who prescribed a medication to you without disclosing known risks that could have caused you to decide on another course of treatment
  • The hospital or clinic where you were treated with or prescribed the defective drug
  • The pharmacy where you had the prescription filled if the pharmacist failed to disclose known risks or include label instructions when the prescription was filled.

Most often, dangerous drug laws hold at-fault parties strictly liable in product liability cases. What this means is that you and your attorney do not have to prove that any one person in the manufacturing chain was negligent. Instead, you must prove:

  • The drug was defective when it came into your possession.
  • You used the drug as instructed on the packaging label.
  • You suffered an injury or illness that was directly linked to the use of the defective drug.

Hiring an experienced attorney who knows their way around dangerous drug laws can help you win a defective product lawsuit or other product liability suit. Scroll down to start your case by learning how to file a product liability claim and where to hire a dangerous drug attorney near you.

How to File a Product Liability Claim

Dangerous drug laws and associated product liability claims fall under the rather wide umbrella of personal injury law. Also known as tort law, personal injury cases involve proving liability and showing the damages (physical and financial) you incurred as a result of someone else’s negligent actions.

In order to seek compensation for the illness or injury you experienced due to a dangerous drug, you will want to take the following steps as you file the product liability claim.

Step One: Keep the Product

If you have reason to believe that you were injured or acquired an illness as a result of a dangerous drug, make sure to keep the product. In order to file a claim to seek compensation, your attorney will need to establish a direct link between the drug and the physical harm you incurred. One of the key pieces of evidence in doing so is the defective product itself.

Step Two: Document the Expenses and Impacts

In addition to linking the dangerous drug to the injury or illness you experienced, you will also be required to prove the damages you are claiming.

In the legal arena, the word “damages” refers to the compensation you can receive for harm. Included in the documents you need to save are all proof of doctor visits, diagnoses, and bills that you received for services related to your injury.

Step Three: Check the Deadline

Product liability cases, like other types of personal injury claims, have a statute of limitations. This means that you only have a certain amount of time after your injury or illness to file a legal claim in civil court. Each state sets its own statute of limitations, but typically the filing deadline for products liability cases is up to three years.

Step Four: Hire an Attorney

An experienced product liability attorney is a crucial part of your claim. From establishing a value for your case to delivering the closing arguments at trial and assisting you in collecting your settlement or award, an attorney offers several services aimed at ensuring your right to seek the maximum amount of compensation available in your case.

Step Five: Negotiate a Settlement

Once your attorney has submitted your demand to the at-fault party’s insurance provider, the provider has three options as to how to respond:

  1. Agree to the demand and issue payment
  2. Deny the claim and notify the claimant in writing, along with a reason for the denial
  3. Make a settlement offer

Initial settlement offers are often far below the value of the case but serve as a jumping-off point for settlement negotiations. Your attorney will be able to help you negotiate a fair settlement or will take the defendants to court if you are unable to reach an agreement.

Step Six: File a Lawsuit

At some point, as the statutory deadline to submit your claim draws closer and the settlement negotiations have yet to produce an agreed-upon settlement, you — with the guidance of your attorney — will determine that it is time to file your lawsuit.

It is worth noting that a lot of dangerous drug cases involving product liability become class-action lawsuits or multi-district litigations (MDLs). Class actions and MDLs are two methods for resolving cases involving dozens or even hundreds of claimants. Your attorney will be looking to see if there is an open class action or MDL that you can join, and may also even discuss the potential of seeking certification of your case as a class action.

Step Seven: Litigation

The settlement process can continue from the time that the at-fault party’s insurance company receives and reviews your demand until after your trial has begun but a decision has not yet been rendered. However, if a fair settlement offer has not been made and accepted before your court date arrives, your attorney will proceed with litigation, providing services for you such as the delivery of opening and closing arguments, the presentation of evidence, and the examination of witnesses.

Once you have agreed to a settlement or you have obtained a judgment from the court which orders the defendant to compensate you, your attorney will assist you in the collection of your compensation and will deduct his or her fees from the amount you receive.

How can a dangerous drug law attorney help me?

Product liability cases are extraordinarily complex and involve extensive knowledge of the personal injury claims process. And if you’re facing high-powered attorneys representing medical distributors and pharmaceutical companies, hiring an attorney with experience in dangerous drug law can give you the valuable insight needed to win unique suits like this.

Dangerous drug lawyers are familiar with the types of expenses and impacts that an individual incurs or will likely incur in the future as a result of a dangerous drug and can help you get the amount of compensation you deserve. Further, many product liability attorneys work on a contingent fee basis, which means they will not expect payment for their services until there is a positive outcome to your case.

If you have more questions regarding dangerous drug laws and your case, speak with a lawyer for free right there. Enter your ZIP code below to get in touch with a local dangerous drug law firm today.

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