Cutting Agents and Drug Cases

Packages of narcotics on gray background

Given that drugs like cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine are classified as illegal controlled dangerous substances under New Jersey law, no state or federal agency regulates these drugs for quality. There’s no real way for you to know exactly what a drug contains when buying from a dealer. In many cases, to increase profits, people selling drugs to others dilute expensive drugs with what are called “cutting agents,” typically non-drug substances that are mixed in with the actual product being sold. Importantly, cutting agents can affect drug possession and distribution charges for people arrested in New Jersey. Here is some key information about cutting agents in drug cases. If you need a lawyer with experience defending against charges for marijuana possessionintent to distribute heroinpossession of cocaineEcstasyprescription drugs, and other controlled substance offenses, contact our Middlesex County criminal defense attorneys today. You can reach us anytime for a free consultation about your case; simply call (732) 659-9600.

What is a Cutting Agent?

A “cutting agent” is typically a non-drug substance that is added to a drug like cocaine to trick buyers into thinking they are getting a larger quantity of the drug than they are actually getting. Common examples of cutting agents include substances such as flour, baby powder, powdered milk, protein powder, or even ground up drywall. Drugs are typically sold by weight, so if a drug dealer replaces half of the cocaine with baby powder, they can easily double their profits, receiving full price for the diluted cocaine and selling the remainder of the cocaine to someone else for full price.

Some studies have estimated that a number of street drugs like heroin may have an average purity level of approximately 50% in New Jersey (and that purity level is considered to be high), although not all of this impurity is introduced by cutting agents. Some drugs can degrade if they are manufactured or stored improperly, meaning that of the baggie or bindle of a drug, a person may only be getting a 10% portion of the substance that can give you a “high.”

Drug distributors generally try to find a cutting agent that looks and behaves similarly to the drug that they are advertising. If a drug is typically melted or smoked before being consumed, as is the case with heroin, a drug dealer may try to find a cutting agent that will melt or evaporate at about the same rate as the heroin. Essentially, the purpose of the cutting agent is to reduce the amount of the more expensive drug being sold, and increase the amount the person buying it thinks they are purchasing.

Cutting Agents Can Increase the Degree of a Drug Crime in NJ

Cutting agents can actually increase the degree of drug charges against you in New Jersey. If police catch you with drugs and a prosecutor charges you with drug possession or possession with intent to distribute, the drug being cut with something else could significantly enhance the penalties you face. This may seem unfair, but this charging increase takes place because possession and distribution crimes are typically graded based on the weight or amount of the quantity of the drug in New Jersey. In other words, law enforcement measures the total amount of the controlled substance, regardless of whether there are inert, non-drug cutting agents mixed in with the illegal drug found in your possession.

In other words, the state crime lab is not required to separate out cutting agents, identify the portion of the substance that is actually cocaine, heroin, or marijuana, and re-weigh that portion of the substance before they assign a weight to the amount of the drug you were carrying. If you have a baggie in your pocket that contains a mixture of baby powder and cocaine, and the lab detects cocaine in the sample they take from that baggie, you will be charged based on the total weight of what was contained in that baggie, with no reduction due to the presence of a filler or cutting agent.

To provide a concrete example, say you buy a package of what you think is cocaine that weighs six ounces. As it turns out, the package contains three ounces of cocaine and three ounces of baby powder. In New Jersey, you can be charged with a second degree crime for possessing up to five ounces of cocaine with intent to distribute. You can be charged with an even more serious first degree crime for having over five ounces of cocaine with intent to distribute. The state will not separate out the three ounces of cutting agents and in this situation, you would likely be charged with a first degree felony offense. Cutting agents can thus substantially increase the degree of the charge that you are ultimately facing for possession or distribution.

Laced Drugs can Lead to Even More Serious Charges in New Jersey

Some drug dealers mix a synthetic opioid called fentanyl in with drugs like heroin. This practice is different from adding baby powder or crumbled up drywall to cocaine because fentanyl will get the user high and is incredibly deadly. Drug dealers often mix fentanyl into drugs like heroin because fentanyl costs less, it’s lighter and easier to transport, and unlike inert substances, users still feel an effect from it. But fentanyl has an enormous potential for overdose. Fentanyl is so deadly that New Jersey has a special law applying to drug overdose deaths that result from it and other substances.

According to N.J.S.A. 2C:35-9, if someone provides a drug to another person and he or she dies as a result, the drug provider can be charged with a first degree crime. This is a severe criminal charge carrying a potential sentence of 10-20 years in state prison and up to $200,000 in fines. This is a “strict liability” offense in New Jersey, meaning that you did not have to intend that the person die from taking the drugs. The prosecutor must only prove that you provided the drugs and someone died as a result.

Looking for Felony Drug Defense Help in NJ

In short, cutting agents from flour to fentanyl can have serious consequences in drug possession or distribution prosecutions. If you have been arrested for a crime involving drugs or cutting agents in Middlesex County, consult a dedicated criminal defense attorney at our local firm to get help now. Simply call (732) 659-9600 for a free consultation for a drug case in Edison, New Brunswick, Middlesex, East Brunswick, Dunellen, Metuchen, or another town in the area. We will thoroughly assess your drug charges and discuss how we can assist you with fighting them in court.

With more than a decade of experience defending clients against criminal charges, founding partner William A. Proetta has successfully handled and tried thousands of cases, from DWI to murder. As a New Jersey native, he has focused his career on helping people in the area where he grew up, serving Middlesex, Ocean, Hudson, and Union counties.