Adderall in Korea: How US Tourists Escaped Prosecution

About 85% of foreign drug offenders arrested on drug charges in Korea are arrested for possessing, importing, or using psychotropic drugs such as Philopon (methamphetamine), Adderall, LSD, and Zolpidem (sleeping pill). Compared to 2012, the number of foreign marijuana offenders has increased about 2.1 times, and the number of foreign psychotropic drug offenders has increased by about 10.6 times. This shows that in comparison to other drug offenses, the numbers of psychotropic drug offenders are drastically increasing and, consequentially, so are the numbers of foreigners receiving prison sentences in Korea.

This article describes a case in which our experienced drug crime lawyer, who is a prescription drug law specialist, successfully defended three American women who were arrested for using Adderall in Korea. Thanks to the successful drug defense, they women were released within 24 hours of the police investigation and were able to return to the US without being prosecuted, detained or banned from departing Korea.


1. Case Overview

Adderall in Korea: Falling into a Legal Trap

In July 2023, three American citizens were visiting Korea when they were arrested by the Korean police on charges of violating the Narcotics Control Act: A, a woman in her 30s, and B and C, who were in their 20s. While visiting Seoul, the women went into a frenzy inside the taxi they were riding, shouting out of the car, and kicking and yelling at the front seat. These actions alarmed the taxi driver, who then brought the women to the police precinct to report them. As a result, they were accused of drug use. Initially, the police suspected that they were under the influence of methamphetamine (in Korea also known as ‘Philopon’).

At this point, it is important to note that the police can order a drug test if a person is displaying significantly abnormal behavior that would indicate excessive drinking or drug use. In this case, the initial drug test showed that the women tested positive for methamphetamine. In reality, however, the clients had never used hard drugs such as methamphetamine. But that is not what the drug test showed.

If it was discovered that the clients had in fact carried and imported methamphetamine, they would not only be charged with drug possession and drug use, but with smuggling as well, meaning that they would face heavy punishments. On top of that, the clients were only in Korea on a short trip and had to return to the US to go back to work the following week, meaning that being detained and prohibited from leaving Korea on the methamphetamine charges for a longer period would have additional serious consequences for them.


Aware of their critical situation, they decided to hire an attorney. Their search for legal representation for drug charges finally led them to retain the services of our skilled drug defense lawyer, who has years of courtroom experience and is listed by the U.S. Embassy as a lawyer for criminal defense. We met our client at the police station and were able to discuss privately before the start of the investigation, which is how our lawyer was able to find out that the client had in fact not taken methamphetamine, but Adderall.

In the United States, Adderall is a prescription medication that is often used to treat ADHD or taken by American students or office workers as a kind of ‘study drug’, since it is said to improve focus. However, unprescribed possession or use is strictly illegal. In other words, even though methamphetamine and Adderall are not the same, the use, possession, and import of Adderall without a prescription is still considered illegal under Korean law and therefore punishable as a drug offense.

And even if you bring in prescribed Adderall from abroad while entering Korea, it can still get you into trouble if you haven’t reported it to customs. Additionally, the fact that Adderall can result in testing positive for amphetamines due to its chemical structure is something that our lawyer knew from years of experience, but it is unknown to most others. This small yet crucial detail, combined with the fact that Adderall is widely used in the United States, has led plenty of unaware foreigners into trouble with the Korean law.

But in this case, our lawyer promptly and strongly asserted to the police that the women’s positive methamphetamine test result was due to the Adderall they had taken, and that their abnormal behavior was caused by the combination of Adderall with large amounts of alcohol. Due to these facts, the lawyer argued that the offense did not constitute a methamphetamine crime and the severe punishment that it carries in Korea.


2. Successful Drug Defense

Adderall Case Dismissed (Non-Indictment)

Our Adderall defense attorney acted quickly in the Adderall use/possession defense of the clients so that they would be able to return to the United States on their original schedule. After a prompt and effective criminal defense during the investigation at the police station, the police eventually acknowledged that the women did indeed only take Adderall, not methamphetamine.

Even though this act was still illegal and there are penalties for Adderall use and possession, the severity of the punishment is vastly different to that of a methamphetamine charge, so in the end, the police released the women from police custody within 24 hours and decided not to prosecute them. As a result, our clients’ criminal charges were dismissed, and they were able to return to the United States.


Adderall in Korea Prescription Medication gets Tourists into Legal Trouble

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