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Can Someone Get A DUI While Taking Prescription Medications?

  • September 1, 2017

    Many DUI offenders were under the influence of illegal drugs or alcohol when they were arrested. However, over-the-counter medications and prescription drugs can lead to a DUI arrest. Although DUI laws and how they are applied to prescription medication vary by state, you can get arrested for driving under the influence of prescription medications or any other legal drug that impairs your ability to drive.

    Many prescription medications affect your ability to drive. Narcotic pain pills such as Vicodin or Codeine are mind-altering drugs that can affect your driving. Anti-anxiety medications such as Xanax or sleep medications including Seroquel or Ambien also impair your driving ability. In most states, if you have taken any of these medications and attempt to drive, there is a legal basis for a DUI charge if an officer believes you were driving erratically.

    When you are pulled over, most officers will begin their DUI investigation by checking you for alcohol consumption. Officers will likely require you to take field sobriety tests or blow into a device that checks for alcohol in your breath. If officers do not detect any alcohol, they will usually start an investigation for other substances that impaired your ability to drive. If officers feel that another substance impaired your driving ability, you may have to submit to a urine or blood sample.

    However, DUIs and prescription medications create problems since some legal drugs can stay in your system for some time. For example, if you took Seroquel the night before to help you sleep, that medication will still show up in your system the next day. If you have been pulled over for suspicion of DUI, officers could determine you are under the influence of a medication you took the night before, even though you were not under the influence of the medication at the time you were driving.

    Keep in mind that any drug that impairs your ability to safely operate a motor vehicle can result in a DUI charge, including the use of prescription drugs. The legal definition of “under the influence” is drugs or an alcoholic beverage affecting your ability to drive to an appreciable degree. This definition applies in every state in the U.S. Therefore, you can be charged with a DUI if you drove while under the influence of prescription drugs.

    Many prescription drugs produce side effects that impair your driving ability. Several drugs affect your motor skills, balance, coordination and ability to think clearly, even when you take the medication at the proper dosage. However, there is no measurable standard to determine your level of impairment if you have taken prescription drugs while driving. Unlike the standard blood-alcohol reading of .08 used across most of the U.S., law enforcement has no way to tell how much medication impaired your ability to drive.

    Although most drugs affect your ability to drive differently, any drug that impairs your alertness, judgment, motor skills or concentration are on the same level as alcohol. If a drug causes you dizziness, blurred vision, slowed movement or drowsiness, you are susceptible to a DUI charge. Unfortunately, many people believe that only alcohol affects their ability to drive and are therefore unaware they can be charged with a DUI for legal medications. Several over-the-counter drugs also affect your ability to drive, including antihistamines and various alcohol-based teas. Kombucha tea is an herbal tea drink that contains a small amount of alcohol, which can register on a breathalyzer test.

    Note that the penalties for driving under the influence of drugs are the same as alcohol-related DUIs. The laws vary by each state, and if you are facing a drug-related DUI for prescription medications, you should educate yourself on how each state law deals with such offenses.

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