The Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) has recently overruled a decision in United States v. Lancaster that removed punishment from using prescription drugs for any purpose other than the treatment of the illness or injury for which they were originally prescribed by a physician. The new statement labels the previous decision as “erroneous” and “contrary” to the Air Force CCA’s intentions. It has reestablished that any use of a prescription drug is to be considered wrongful unless its use lines directly with the prescription’s directions, or the use is explicitly authorized by a superior or doctor. The implications brought forth by the clarified ruling have the potential to limit the use of any prescription drug beyond the original intent of the prescriber, even if the new use is legitimized.

When Airman First Class Mull entered a guilty plea to the wrongful and illegal use of his own diazepam prescription, which was prescribed for a legitimate reason, it opened the door for the widening of the ruling’s influence. Mull explained during his plea that he was prescribed the medication for a chronic pain in his back. He further explained that he was addicted to heroin and used it frequently enough to experience a tolerance to its impairing effects. In order to both cultivate a stronger “high” from the heroin and to help his body cope with the after-effects of heroin, he began to take diazepam doses outside the prescription schedule.


After Airman First Class Mull described his knowing abuse of what was left of his diazepam prescription, Chief Judge Drew seemed to defend him from penalty. He noted in a written statement that there was an absence of specific legislation or regulations within the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) that strictly prohibited a person from keeping “unused amounts of [a] drug and later taking it for another ailment.” This statement implies that heroin drug withdrawals were a legitimate ailment, despite being caused by Mull’s own drug use.

The Air Force CCA quickly slapped down Drew’s reasoning, citing the Manual for Courts-Martial. Within the Manual, there is the clear description of illegal drug use among service members, stating that any sort of prescription or recreational drug use “without legal or justification or authorization” is wrongful. A ruling on United States v. Pariso also clearly stated that taking doses of a previous prescription that no longer treated a diagnosed ailment for recreational use is wrongful by the UCMJ definitions of drug crimes. Indeed, the new Air Force CCA ruling has the ability to act as an umbrella rule, covering the intentional use of an expired or outdated prescription medication, even if it was once used for a legitimate purpose. Some speculate that the ruling foreshadows the eventual criminalization of possessing any unused prescription, requiring the immediate responsible disposal of “leftovers” instead.

Joseph Jordan is a military criminal defense attorney with an impressive history of protecting the rights of protectors from all branches of the United States Armed Forces and at bases all around the world. As a civilian attorney, clients can trust him to cut to the truth of the matter and see all angles to provide a steadfast defense that is not compromised by internal biases or complications that may impact the reliability of defense counsel still serving the military. To learn about your rights after being accused of a drug crime or other serious violation, contact his firm today to schedule a free initial consultation.