SMITHFIELD — Attorneys for Paula Gail Harrison convinced a judge Wednesday that she did not violate the terms of a 2011 narcotics conviction when she tested positive six times for drugs because the opiate-based medications she took earlier this year had been prescribed by a physician.
Harrison, the 45-year-old daughter of Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison, was ordered to appear in a Johnston County courtroom to answer charges that she violated an agreement she made with the court almost two years ago after she was charged with drug trafficking.
The agreement signed in January 2011 prohibited Harrison from using illicit drugs. Prosecutors ordered her back to court after finding that she failed drug tests in April, May, June, August, September and October. Harrison could have been sentenced to more than three years in prison if she had broken the conditions of the agreement that expires Jan. 6, court records show.
But Superior Court Judge Frank Floyd found that Harrison did not use illicit drugs and had valid medical prescriptions.
Johnston County District Attorney Susan Doyle and Harrisons attorneys Leo Daughtry and James Williams of Smithfield all agreed that she has been taking prescribed medication for chronic pain.
Williams said that since the age of 21, Harrison has had eight major operations to treat ongoing accumulations of a fungal infection in her inner ear.
Imagine the worst ear infection you have ever had in your life multiplied by 100, Williams said. If the wind blows on it or you roll on your ear while in bed, the pain is excruciating.
Harrisons physician attended Wednesdays hearing to testify on her behalf, her lawyers said.
Daughtry said part of Harrisons treatment plan includes opiate-based medications.
She is not taking any medications not prescribed by a doctor, he said.
Johnston County sheriffs deputies charged Harrison in May 2010 with trafficking opium or heroin, selling or delivering a controlled substance and maintaining a vehicle or dwelling for using, storing or selling drugs.
Johnston deputies accused her of possessing prescription medications that a 17-year-old boy from Clayton had stolen from his father. Investigators said Harrison got 41 Oxycodone pills and three Hydrocodone pills from two teenage boys and delivered the pills to another person.
On Jan. 6, 2011, she pleaded guilty to two felony counts of attempted trafficking in opium or heroin.
As part of deferred prosecution, she agreed to enroll in an intensive outpatient drug treatment program, submit to monthly drug testing, complete 250 hours of community service with an organization that focuses on substance abuse and addiction, abstain from illegal drug use and not commit any criminal offenses.
Williams said that the amount of medication Harrison needs on an ongoing basis played a role in her arrest. Doyle agreed.
Shes in chronic pain, she said. But I think because of that shes become addicted and needs more than the regular amount prescribed by a doctor.
Doyle noted that at the time of Harrisons sentencing there was some public concern that she received a sweetheart deal because she is the daughter of the Wake sheriff. But Doyle said the type of agreement that Harrison received is not unusual in drug cases, particularly if defendants agree to help police as confidential informants or identify drug contacts.