Some experts say that benzodiazepines are the most common prescription drugs in the world. In 1999 alone, global sales of benzodiazepines exceeded $21 billion, and many Canadian doctors prescribe these drugs. Unfortunately, misuse of benzodiazepines can lead to serious consequences, so the Canadian government enforces strict laws about the possession and use of these common medications. Learn more about the problems that benzodiazepines can cause, and find out how these prescription drugs can land you in trouble with the law.
The problem with benzodiazepines
Benzodiazepines belong to a group of medications that doctors prescribe to help tackle various problems. The drugs are depressants (or sedatives) and can help patients who suffer from insomnia, anxiety, muscle spasms, alcohol withdrawal and other conditions. In some cases, doctors and dentists will prescribe these drugs before somebody has treatment to help ease patient anxiety.
Benzodiazepines slow down activity in the central nervous system. The drugs that doctors prescribe may last for a short time, or they may subdue the patient for a longer period. This group of medications is highly addictive, which means many people need to continually increase their dose to get the same effects. Some people use benzodiazepines with other illegal drugs. For example, people who use cocaine or amphetamines often use benzodiazepines to manage the come down they experience after using stimulants.
Around ten per cent of Canadians use these medications at least once a year. One in ten of those people will continue to use the drugs for more than a year.
Why the law has to control these drugs
Even if you stick to a prescribed dose, benzodiazepines can have unwanted side effects. Users often experience confusion, headaches, drowsiness and slurred speech. If you overdose, you may experience problems with your breathing and you may fall unconscious. If you take the overdose with another drug like alcohol, benzodiazepines can even kill you.
Some people also use benzodiazepines for more disturbing reasons. While the drugs are not normally soluble in water, it's easy to crush up tablets and conceal them in alcoholic drinks. As such, you can also use benzodiazepines as 'date rape drugs'.
One of the other challenges facing Canadian police is the large profit people can make from trafficking these drugs. One study found that a single tablet of slow-release morphine cost $1.70 in a pharmacy, but then fetched $35 on the street.
Penalties for illegal use
According to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, Canadian lawmakers classify benzodiazepines as Schedule IV drugs. It's not illegal for somebody to possess these drugs, but you must have a prescription that relates to the amount found. Under the Act, it is illegal to sell the drugs to somebody else or to acquire the drugs without a prescription.
If treated as a minor (summary conviction) offence, you can receive a $5,000 fine or one year in prison. In more serious cases, the offence may become indictable. In this case, you could face three years in prison.
Important facts about drug sentencing
Drug prosecutors in Canada fall under the remit of the Public Prosecutions Services of Canada. As such, a prosecutor will often have lengthy, specialized experience in these cases. What's more, certain aggravating factors can influence the sentence.
When issuing a sentence, the prosecutor will consider:
- If you carried, used or threatened somebody with a weapon
- Any violence used or threatened
- If you tried to sell drugs in or near a school
- If you tried to sell drugs to somebody under the age of 18
Where these aggravating factors exist, the court will often have to justify why the judge did not impose a prison sentence.
What's more, if you sell (or try to sell) benzodiazepines and you don't have an addiction problem, the court will normally decide you are not worthy of sympathy. If you do suffer with an addiction problem, you can ask a judge to move your case to a drug treatment court, where you won't get a prison sentence.
Benzodiazepines cause serious health and social issues for many Canadians. If you face prosecution for misuse of benzodiazepines, you should contact a trained criminal defence lawyer straight away.