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Traveling with Prescription Drugs

Traveling-With-Prescription-Drugs
By K. Susie Adams #134068

In a previous issue of Escapees magazine, a reader responded to an article stating that creating a pill box for all your medication, and keeping those medications in it while you are RVing, may be illegal.

I was asked to review that concern and, when I first read the
question, thought it was rather absurd. Of course, if your RV is your home, you can keep pills in your weekly pill box the same as you would at a stationary home, right? To justify my opinion, I began legal research to satisfy myself that pill boxes can be used in the home.

Coincidentally, during this time, I was called for jury duty in Livingston, Texas, regarding a case concerning this issue. Although I was not selected to serve on the jury, the case involved a man in his mid-thirties accused of taking his girlfriend’s medication. It was not clear from the jury panel questions whether the prosecutor was trying to prove that he took the pills to sell, ingest or to simply have them on hand in case she needed them.

The prosecutor outlined each possible scenario. She began by telling the jury panel that, if proven guilty for his crime, he could face two to 20 years for having between one and four grams of a “controlled substance.” She explained that a controlled substance includes medication that has been prescribed to you or another person. They are “controlled” by federal and state laws. In fact, the prosecutor explained, if you have medicine with out-of-date prescription dates, they are controlled and, technically, to take them after the date can be found to be illegal. She further described the situation where your spouse has back pain and takes a pain-relieving medicine prescribed to you, and explained that it is illegal.

Then, there’s the case of taking those pills out of their container and putting them in your pocket or in a pill container, such as the weekly or monthly pill containers many folks use when they travel. Are you illegally transporting a controlled substance? The answer is yes.

Here is a scenario that could arise: You and your spouse are driving on the interstate. To avoid an object in the road, you swerve. A policeman behind you sees you swerve, but doesn’t see the reason why, and he decides to pull you over for reckless driving. As the policeman approaches your vehicle, your full-time RV, you lower the window and hand him your driver license. The policeman asks to search the RV. Can he? He must have probable cause to search. Is swerving enough of a reason for him to search your RV? Yes, it is. In a moving vehicle, if the policeman can show probable cause that the vehicle contains evidence of a crime, he can search without a warrant.

So, the police, seeing that you have swerved and believing that you might be “under the influence,” can search your RV. When they discover the pill box where there are drugs not in the container in which they were prescribed, they have already found enough evidence to cause you to worry. They will ask what each pill is for, where it was prescribed and to produce the doctor’s prescription. You would have the burden of proving that you had a prescription and that you had followed the directions. If there are precautions against driving after taking the drug, more problems may develop as you try to explain that you have, or have not, taken the drug.

Even though keeping your medicine in the original container may be a hassle, it may be worth it given this potential problem. Since starting my research, I have also learned that there are other reasons why keeping the pills in their original containers could be important. If you are in an accident and unable to give an accurate assessment of your medications, having them readily available could be helpful at the hospital.

At press time, I do not know the outcome of the trial or if the defendant in that case was accused of taking the pills to sell, to ingest or to keep for when his girlfriend needed them. What concerned me was that any one of those scenarios was illegal. And now that Congress is being asked to “do something about the opiate problem” in the U.S., it appears that, rather than softening some of these excessively harsh laws, they may create laws that are even more strict.

In the end, creating or enhancing these laws isn’t meant to snare ordinary people going about their ordinary lives. Yet, with each change, it appears that ordinary people may find themselves guilty of a crime without having known it was illegal.

 K. Susie Adams has been a lawyer for over 30 years, spending 15 of those years working as a trial lawyer. She also taught legal writing at the University of Houston Law School. From 2011–2016, she was executive director of Childrenz Haven, the Child Advocacy Center of Polk County, Texas. Susie and her husband, James Frost, reside in Livingston, Texas.

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