I recently saw a news report about elderly people selling drugs and being prosecuted as drug dealers. I admit I was a little surprised, but only that they were being prosecuted. I mean, come on, Grandma being charged with selling her prescription medicine?
The elderly, usually on a fixed income and faced with rising prices on everything from groceries to toilet paper, have always had to be a little frugal. If their health is good, they might be able to find some form of employment to supplement their pension, perhaps working as a greeter at Walmart or selling tickets at a movie theater. However, many are not in good health. They deal with pain daily from arthritis and other diseases. Now, they have found a new way to earn some extra money. According to AARP, senior citizens are often recruited by drug dealers, through either coercion or a promise of monetary compensation; and once an elderly person begins to sell their prescriptions, it’s hard for them to stop. The money is too good and, I’d imagine, the fear of retribution from the drug dealer is too strong.
What drugs are they selling? Oxycodone and other painkillers, mostly, but also antibiotics and other drugs that doctors have prescribed for daily use. One report says that the elderly in the U.S. account for 40% of painkiller use. Sometimes these pills go for $50 each. That’s a lot of money for an older person to turn down.
These same drugs are causing overdose deaths, and are considered to be part of the opioid epidemic in Western Pennsylvania.
This Pittsburgh criminal defense lawyer has heard of people as old as 91 years selling their monthly medications. They often get them in 90-day supplies, because it’s cheaper and their insurance encourages them to go a less expensive route. If they don’t use all those pills in that three-month period, there is the potential to make some serious money.
Too, many elderly people may not understand how serious selling their prescriptions is, and how dangerous the drugs are. To them, they’re helping out someone in need or helping themselves pay the electric bill. They don’t realize the deadly effects of some of these drugs.
Unfortunately for these seniors, the police and the Drug Enforcement Agency don’t look kindly on the practice. While judges often give lighter sentences to the elderly and juries are often surprised that the defendant is a senior citizen, the cops and DEA are not about to stop arresting them. Frequently, an elderly person’s arrest for drug dealing is their first time in trouble with the law.
Steps are being taken in some states, Pennsylvania being one of them, to limit the amount of pills a person can get in a prescription. In November of 2016, the legislature passed a law that limits the prescriptions an urgent care or emergency room doctor can give to a patient to no more than a seven-day supply. These doctors are also prevented from writing prescriptions for refills of those drugs. They must refer for treatment people they suspect of being at risk for substance abuse, and they must check the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program before they give a patient a prescription, to see if the person has been given opioids already by another provider.
This law went into effect on January 1, 2017.
While the new law will certainly slow the problem down, I doubt it will ever go away. The consequences may frighten them, but the advantages to the elderly drug dealer are too great, and often far too seductive.