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37 charged in Pennsylvania prescription drug investigation

Although prescription drugs are legal when properly prescribed and used, prescription drugs are still controlled substances in Pennsylvania, and people can face state and federal drug charges if they violate the laws that control prescription drugs.

In fact, law enforcement authorities are devoting an ever-increasing amount of time and resources in their efforts to investigate prescription drug crimes. Recently, Pennsylvania authorities charged 37 people for allegedly distributing more than 30,000 pills illegally.

Authorities began to notice an increase in the amount of painkillers they found on the streets and they began an investigation about 17 months ago. Over the 17-month investigation that officers called "Operation Pill Rush," officers focused on finding the source of OxyContin, Hydrocodone and Fentanyl.

In January 2010, officers began to purchase drugs on the street. Over the course of at least 50 undercover drug purchases, officers collected evidence that led to three separate organizations. According to investigators, the three organizations had three separate suppliers based out of the state.

As is often the case in drug investigations, authorities cast a wide net and charged the three alleged ringleaders as well as 34 others who were allegedly involved in their organizations.

When multiple defendants are implicated in a drug investigation, prosecutors commonly file conspiracy charges in addition to drug charges. A conspiracy charge is a very serious charge, because defendants are often convicted of conspiracy even when they are acquitted of the underlying crimes. In addition, prosecutors will often try to use a conspiracy charge to introduce hearsay evidence that would not otherwise be legally admissible in court.

Source: Erie Times-News, "37 face charges in alleged Erie prescription drug trafficking," Tim Hahn, Aug. 10, 2011

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