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Patterns of prescription drug use and abuse

Some of the same drugs that have helped improve and save the lives of Milwaukee residents are the reasons some Wisconsin residents are in prison. Many people associate drug trafficking and related crimes with “street drugs” like heroin and cocaine — substances labeled as clearly harmful with no medical benefit to users. Prescription drugs don’t have the same stigma as these substances but, when abused, can be every bit as dangerous to a person’s wellbeing.

A Mayo Clinic study published in 2013 revealed nearly 70 percent of Americans take prescription drugs, with over 50 percent using more than one doctor-prescribed medication. The most prescribed drugs are antibiotics, antidepressants and pain-relieving opioids. Some of these drugs are used for reasons other than their intended purposes.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimated 52 million people – one in five people, 12 and older — use prescription medications for nonmedical reasons. A 2010 nationwide survey concluded about 6,600 people per day used prescription drugs illegally for the first time the previous year. Teens made up approximately one-third of those first-time users.

Almost 14 percent of self-reported non-medical prescription drug users fit the medical description of abusers or dependents. Substance dependence is the motivation for a significant number of crimes. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 18 percent of federal inmates and 17 percent of state prisoners in 2004 committed crimes for drug money.

Substance abuse is not a defense for breaking the law. You can still suffer serious consequences, even for charges that only involve possession. A criminal record for a drug crime can affect opportunities to secure or maintain employment and obtain loans for higher education or housing.

However, courts now recognize some drug defendants can benefit from treatment rather than prison. Successful completion of a drug diversion program can clear your record. A criminal defense attorney can provide information about eligibility requirements.

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