The illegal involvement in controlled substances are crimes that the federal government takes very seriously – not only because of potential harm they pose to the individual but also because of the actual harm and risk to harm it poses to society as a whole.
Right now, the worst of these controlled substances is a drug called fentanyl that is wreaking havoc in cities across the country. This drug crisis has prompted the federal government to take a hard stand against those illegally involved with the drug. Recently, an Austin man was sent to prison for 78 months for such an involvement. He was convicted of possession with intent to distribute and, while not connected to any deaths directly, the types of pills found in his possession killed at least 17 people over a 10-month period in Austin.
Another recent case out of San Diego involved a man trying to smuggle methamphetamine and fentanyl into the United States from Mexico. He had over 20,000 pounds of the two drugs and could face life in prison for the sheer volume of drugs in his possession.
Here’s what you need to know about fentanyl and why the government takes it so seriously, including the penalties that can be faced when someone is accused of federal drug crimes.
What Is Fentanyl?
Fentanyl is an artificial opioid that is up to 100 times more powerful than morphine. It is available by prescription, but it is often used illegally since it is so powerful. Because of how powerful it is, when provided on the illegal drug market, it is the most common type of drug involved in overdose deaths in the U.S.
Fentanyl that is used illegally is often made in labs and sold as a powder. It is then commonly made into pills that look similar to prescription opioids. In other cases, drug dealers mix it with other drugs such as methamphetamine, cocaine, MDMA, and heroin since it takes so little of it to produce the effects of feeling high. This is risky, however, since people may not realize they are getting fentanyl and easily overdose.
Federal Drug Charges for Fentanyl
Federal and state drug crimes are often very similar, but when someone is charged with a federal crime, then the penalties can be a lot more severe. Under federal law, it is illegal to manufacture drugs, traffic them, enter into a conspiracy regarding them, or possess them knowingly and intentionally.
It’s common for those who cross state lines to be prosecuted at the federal level, but the quantity of the drugs found could also lead to federal charges, as well as if they are being charged with a drug crime that took place on federal property or involved a federal agent.
Federal Mandatory Sentencing
Part of what makes federal drug crime penalties so harsh is that the government uses mandatory penalties for drug related crimes. That means that a judge uses federal guidelines to assign penalties, often guided by the types of drugs involved in the offense and what types of drug schedule they are on.
Drug schedules are divided up into five categories. Schedule I is for drugs with no accepted medical use but a high probability for abuse, while schedule V involves drugs that have less of a risk for abuse or dependence. Fentanyl is considered a Schedule II drug because it does have some accepted medical use, but also has a high risk of dependency and abuse.
The schedule a drug is on, as well as the quantity of drugs involved in the case, determines how much prison time someone convicted of a federal drug crime faces. It can be anywhere from a minimum sentence of 10 years all the way up to life in prison.