According to the Campbell Law Review, in an attempt to mitigate the use and distribution of prescription narcotics, North Carolina has enacted some serious drug trafficking laws to punish individuals who sell or distribute prescription painkillers for off-label use.

c1Because drug trafficking prosecutors often rely on the amount of drugs or pills found in a person’s possession in order to determine the severity of the crime, North Carolina’s drug trafficking laws are particularly harsh on individuals who become addicted to prescription pain killers like Percocet or oxycodone. Attorneys such as David R. Payne, P.A. offer aggressive legal representation for those that are accused of these crimes. For instance, the possession of just ten pills containing oxycodone in North Carolina is treated as a trafficking in opium or heroin charge. This charge carries with it a mandatory minimum sentence of 70 months in jail, in addition to a fine up to $50,000. For larger amounts of pills, for instance, about 38 pills, a person could face criminal drug trafficking charges of 18 years in jail with a fine of $500,000. To offer a comparison, a person would have to be found in possession of 10,000 pounds of marijuana in order to face a similar sentence.

Scholars writing for the Campbell Law Review explained that the heroin and opiate laws were not intended to apply to individuals abusing prescription drugs and that the law should be amended to reflect this. As the writers explained, “It is difficult to believe that the North Carolina General Assembly intended the trafficking of opium or heroin statute to be used to send a person to prison for six years for possessing as few as seven Percocet pills; it simply does not further the legislature’s intent of ‘deterring[ing] large scale distribution of drugs in the state.’”


North Carolina’s laws have been called draconian by experts and public critics alike. And, laws that turn possession of prescription painkillers into drug trafficking crimes have the ability to ruin lives. For instance, one man, with no history of drug-dealing recently received a 25-year sentence for selling a few pills to an informant. According to Think Progress, this man will spend more time in jail that the former Enron CEO who was party to one of the largest fraud schemes in U.S. history. One writer for the Atlantic called the man’s drug sentencing “idiocy” and “heartbreaking.” Critics claim that North Carolina’s drug laws ensnare individuals in a system designed to punish large-scale drug distributors and leaders of crime syndicates. Instead, individuals who have become tragically addicted to painkillers find themselves ensnared in a system that, for many lawyers and advocates, shows little mercy.

Yet, are there options for individuals who are facing serious drug trafficking sentencing for what many would consider small-scale crimes? According to one UNC blog writer, many individuals, including judges tend to agree that North Carolina’s mandatory sentencing rules don’t add up. And, judges do have discretion in North Carolina when it comes to sentencing.

Yet, the options for those facing conviction are not always ideal. Sentences can often only be reduced if individuals work as informants. In some cases, this can be dangerous, if not deadly work.

Another option that a judge has, is to lower a sentence of trafficking to attempted trafficking. Under this option, the judge can issue a lower-term sentence. In some cases, this can reduce a person’s sentence to 15 months.

Yet, another choice is for a sentencing judge to use the habitual felon law to reduce the sentencing. Being convicted as a habitual felon can often place the convicted individual on a shorter sentencing term.

Even so, many agree that the punishment for prescription painkillers simply doesn’t fit the crime. And the punishments don’t address the fact that individuals often become addicted to these painkillers following an injury. Many were not aware of the risks of addiction when they began taking the drugs.

For individuals facing serious drug trafficking charges in North Carolina, it seems that the best bet is to not be convicted in the first place. Fortunately, individuals who have been arrested for drug trafficking are granted the right to a fair trial under the law. A skilled drug trafficking lawyer can gather evidence and build a strong case for individuals facing devastating sentences under North Carolina’s serious drug trafficking laws. For more information or to talk with an attorney, visit