Prescription Opiates and Drug Possession Laws in Minnesota: When Can Prescribed Drugs Cause Legal Problems?

Opiates are in the odd position of being both a controlled substance on the DEA’s drug schedule and the most common form of prescription painkiller. Derived from the opium poppy, it has long been known that these drugs have serious potential to cause crippling addiction. However, there are also no better substitutes for serious pain that do not cause even worse health problems when taken in large doses or for too long of a period of time.

There is no problem with the possession and use of legally prescribed opiate painkillers so long as it is your own prescription, and you are sticking to the doses prescribed by your doctor. When you exceed regular doses, take pills for a longer period than you are supposed to, or obtain them from illicit sources outside of a pharmacy, you are opening yourself up to both legal trouble and potential addiction.


Yes, it is.

Minnesota law stipulates that any amount of a Schedule I or II opiate drug in your system is grounds for a DWI, even if you are on a legally prescribed dose. Drugs in these schedules include most of the potent and common opiate painkillers such as oxycodone and morphine.

The law does make an exception for legal prescriptions being used in amounts that don’t exceed the prescription limits. However, the problem with this law is that it requires the arresting officer to first book you and charge you criminally. You then have to go to trial and clear your name by presenting the prescription as an affirmative defense. Given the hassle and problems this will create, it is obviously better to not drive at all if there is any question of opiates being in your system. However, people who are taking prescribed opiates for chronic pain daily may find themselves in situations where they can’t avoid using their vehicle to take care of basic needs.


Since opioids tend to cause pleasurable euphoria and a reduction of anxiety along with their painkilling qualities, people are sometimes tempted to take them more often than they should. This is the beginning of a slippery slope that can ultimately lead to tragic life consequences.

It is important to understand a bit about how opioids cause addiction. When you stick to short-term use under a doctor’s supervision, the risk of addiction forming is very minimal. When you continually expose yourself to higher doses of opiates, however, the brain’s ability to naturally regulate mood gradually deteriorates. Critical receptors needed to process mood chemicals lose their function, and the brain comes to rely on the opiate to work properly. Once the brain adjusts to see the opiate as something necessary for daily life, a physical dependency has formed. Stopping use of the opiate causes the brain and body to go into a panic state, which leads to harsh withdrawal symptoms and powerful cravings for the drug.

The primary health danger of opioid abuse is the risk of overdose, particularly when they are paired with other depressants like alcohol. A large enough amount can cause fatal respiratory depression. A longer-term danger is the slide from abusing prescription pills to using street drugs as a substitute. Pills are very expensive, and when they become inaccessible, many users turn to cheaper heroin. This presents both new legal threats from possession, which is illegal in any amount even if you are not driving, and in terms of health and safety as it is impossible to know what substances it has been cut with.

If you’re in need of legal counsel for a charge related to opioid medications, contact us for a free initial consultation.