Gardi, Haught, Fischer & Bhosale LTD.
teen opiods myths


By Martin LaScola

As any parent will tell you, raising a teenager and keeping them safe can be difficult, especially when teen opioid myths abound. Teens often do not know all the facts about their risk-taking behaviors.

Opioid abuse has been in the news lately and for good reason. The numbers surrounding opioid use, like prescription painkillers, especially in our state, is staggering. From 1999 to 2016, the rate of opioid-related overdose deaths in Illinois have skyrocketed,  from 3.9 deaths per 100,000 people to 15.3 deaths per 100,000 people—which is equivalent to 483 and 1,947 annual deaths statewide.

Teen opioid myths are exacerbated by the way teens have become more accustomed to acquiring them, either from their family medicine cabinet or from the homes of friends and family. There are also amateur manufacturers and dealers of substandard, synthetic painkillers that are sold at music festivals and other parties where lowering inhibitions or staying awake is the goal. They are sold at a fraction of the usual cost, increasing the possibility of a drug overdose or other harm to the user.

Unfortunately, teenagers that use and abuse controlled substances like opioids are not only unaware of the danger, but many also falsely believe several teen opioid myths. They don’t understand that these mistaken beliefs can land them in serious trouble. Does your teen believe any of the following myths about opioids?

“It’s not like marijuana or street drugs which are illegal to possess or sell. It’s a prescription drug from a pharmacy so it’s not illegal, right?”  Many teens are under the impression that if it comes from a pharmacy, it is legal.  If you are taking a prescription medication recreationally that is not prescribed to you, you are committing a felony if you are found in possession of these medications. In Illinois, marijuana possession is the only criminal offense involving a drug that is considered a misdemeanor for possession of an amount less than 30 grams. Possession of all other controlled substances (including cocaine, heroin and ecstasy), including many prescription drugs (even in small amounts), is considered a felony.

 “It’s a prescription drug so it’s safer than heroin or cocaine.”  This is perhaps the most dangerous teen opioid myth. Prescription drugs like morphine, methadone, buprenorphine, hydrocodone, and oxycodone are just as addictive and may lead to overdose just as abuse of “street” drugs do as well. To underscore this, the Illinois Criminal Code does not make a distinction between prescriptions and other controlled substances. Both are considered felony criminal offenses when the drugs are found in the wrong hands.

If I get caught I’ll be tried as a juvenile because I’m only 17.”

In the state of Illinois, anyone 17 or older charged with a felony offense (like opioid possession/distribution) can be charged and tried as an adult. If convicted, a felony offense can seriously impact your future, including your ability to get a job and access to higher education.

 “I’m a good kid and this is the first time I’ve ever been in trouble. I’ll probably just get a slap on the hand.”  It’s a pretty hard slap. Even if you are a first-time offender with a clean record you will still be arrested for a felony offense. While the court may look upon you more favorably, you will still need a criminal attorney to help you acquire a special type of probation available for first-time felony drug offenders in Illinois. It is called a Section 410 or 1410 Probation – which is available only if you have not previously been convicted of, or placed on probation or court supervision for, any criminal offense related to cannabis, prescription or other illegal drugs. You are only allowed to have this type of probation once in your lifetime and it is the only way a criminal attorney can help you avoid a felony conviction on your criminal record.

To receive this special probation you will have to plead guilty to the charges and be sentenced to probation for 24 months. During this time, you may be found in violation and risk a permanent conviction if you violate any conditions of your probation or commit another criminal offense. You also will not be able to possess a firearm or other dangerous weapon and you will be subject to at least three random and unscheduled drug testing (during the term of the probation) at your own expense. The court will require you to perform 30 hours of community service, attend classes, pay additional fines and court costs, undergo medical or psychiatric treatment (if applicable) and return to court at a future date. After successful completion of the probation period, the case will not result in a permanent conviction and can later be expunged from the offender’s criminal record.

“If I receive probation and behave myself, nobody will ever know I was arrested.”

This is not true.  Probation is a conviction and it appears on your public criminal record.  Some probation sentences can be expunged, and others sealed (which is good and will reduce the likelihood that an arrest record can be discovered).  However, before that happens – it is on the person’s criminal record and the arrest will also be easily discovered by potential employers and other members of the general public.

For those that receive Court Supervision for a misdemeanor amount of marijuana, you can truthfully answer you have not been CONVICTED of a misdemeanor or felony on a job application – but a background search will reveal that you were ARRESTED.  In cases where the charges were dismissed, the case information and arrest record remains visible and can still negatively impact your chances to get the job. This information can be removed, however if a Petition to Expunge or Seal you record has been filed and later granted.

“Even though I’ve been arrested for possession, it’s pretty easy to get my record expunged or sealed.”
To be eligible to “Petition to Expunge or Seal”, you must not be arrested for two to five years following the successful termination of your sentence. If the case is dismissed, the wait time is significantly decreased and under a new law, may be immediately sealable.  If there is a finding of Not Guilty after trial, there is no wait time and one may Petition for Expungement immediately.  If the petition is granted, the case will be completely removed from the public record. If somebody does a background search, they will not even be able to see that you were arrested and charged with this crime. Be aware that you may be required to be fingerprinted (if the case was resolved in Chicago) as well as take and pass a drug test before a Petition to Seal is granted, in some circumstances.

“I am an immigrant, but it is only my first-time offense. I will not be deported.”
While you may be eligible for the 410 Probation, it will not save you from being deported. While 410 or 1410 Probation is not considered a conviction under Illinois Law, your guilty plea may be enough for the federal government to consider it grounds for deportation or removal from the United States. It’s important to consult with an immigration attorney prior to accepting this type of Probation so that you fully understand its consequences.

Understanding the consequences of illegal prescription drug possession is important for parents and teens alike so neither falls prey to the teen opioid myths surrounding this epidemic in our country. If ever you find yourself in a situation where our criminal law expertise can help, please don’t hesitate to contact us or fill out our free case evaluation form below.

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