When we think about drug addiction, we often think about the lives ruined by the physical and emotional effects of drug abuse. Certainly, lives are lost every year to a drug overdose. Many more people struggling with drug abuse survive but suffer the physical consequences that come with abusing drugs. Beyond the physical effects, drug abuse touches even more lives on a personal level. People struggling with drug abuse often destroy their personal and professional lives, as they may lose their jobs and become isolated from others. Their family and friends suffer as well as a result of those lost connections. U.S. drug laws are intended to control drug traffic, and therefore drug abuse, in an effort to prevent this suffering. But not all drug laws are created equal. Penalties vary from drug to drug. Here is an overview of the most addictive drugs and the laws restricting each.


Heroin is one of the most addictive illicit drugs, and the penalties reflect that. Federal laws mandate different penalties for possession of heroin and for the manufacture or sales of heroin. Possession can result in one to two years in prison and fines ranging from $5000 to $10,000. Sentences for manufacturing or selling heroin range from 15 to 30 years in prison and fines of $25,000 to $50,000. But as the opioid epidemic has exploded, attitudes toward heroin and other opioids are changing, even within the legal establishment. Some communities are pushing to change laws for possession in hopes of helping people struggling with opioid addiction to seek treatment instead of punishing them for possession. These changes would allow people to enter rehab for opioid addiction instead of immediately penalizing them.

Opioid Painkillers

Prescription painkillers in this class include hydrocodone, oxycodone, fentanyl, morphine, and others. Prescription painkiller abuse has skyrocketed in recent decades, with devastating effects. In fact, according to the CDC, 46 people die each day from prescription painkiller overdose. Many people start taking opioid painkillers with a prescription for a legitimate medical need, then become addicted. Others simply take them to get high. Either way, much of the volume of drugs available comes from pills prescribed by doctors, then sold on the street. Some of these drugs come from patients who seek multiple prescriptions from multiple doctors. States are responding by enacting laws to limit how easily doctors can prescribe these drugs. For example, states such as Tennessee and New York require that doctors check the state’s prescription drug monitoring program before prescribing opioids. Florida now prevents health care providers from dispensing prescription painkillers from their offices. All of these states have seen dramatic improvements in the number of patients receiving multiple prescriptions and the number of drug overdose deaths. Criminal punishments range from civil fines for misdemeanor charges to prison time up to five years for felony charges.


The laws governing cocaine possession vary in severity based on the amount possessed and whether there was an intent to sell. Possession of very small amounts may be penalized with only a civil fine of up to $10,000, with no jail time. Possession of larger amounts can result in prison sentences of 5 to 40 years and fines of $4 million. If serious injury or death results, or if the individual has already faced a felony conviction for cocaine possession, sentences can increase from 20 years to life in prison. These stiff penalties are meant to dissuade people from distributing cocaine to others.


While alcohol is not an illicit drug, strict laws regulate who can legally purchase alcohol. All states require that alcohol can be sold only to people over the age of 21. In some states, it is legal for an underage individual to consume alcohol with “family consent,” typically from a parent or guardian. In these states, strict laws govern family consent. For example, in most cases, family consent is only legal at the family’s private residence. Other states have strict “social host” laws making it illegal for anyone to serve alcohol to individuals under the age of 21, even if it is at a private party at a private residence.  

U.S. drug laws are designed to prevent drug abuse and addiction, reduce drug trafficking, and in the case of alcohol, prevent alcohol-related fatalities. The most addictive drugs may come with the harshest penalties in hopes of preventing the devastation that comes with drug addiction. But even addiction to the most addictive drugs can be overcome with proper help and support. If you or someone you love struggles with drug addiction, call Blu By The Sea today. Our professional staff is ready to help.