Information on Driving Under the Influence of Valid Prescription Drugs and How to Fight the DUI Drug Charges
Some drivers still make the mistake of thinking you cannot be charged with DUI for driving under the influence of legal prescription medication. An arrest charge for any type of prescription DUI offense can have a serious and long-lasting effect on your life.
Just like a conviction for drunk driving, a conviction for driving under the influence of prescription drug medication can result in a person’s driver’s license being automatically suspended, along with the other mandatory DUI costs and local penalties.
The lack of transportation can also affect a person’s ability to hold a job, because a DUI or DWI conviction on a driver’s permanent criminal record will make getting a new job much more difficult. If you are a licensed professional, any DUI offense conviction can also jeopardize your professional license.
Typically, the offense of Driving Under the Influence relates to alcohol intoxication. While this is the most likely case for a DUI or DWI-related offense, it is important to know that these charges can also apply when driving under the influence of drugs, both illegal and prescribed, or any other substance that impairs your ability to operate a vehicle. The mix of drugs and driving, regardless if they are illegal substances such as marijuana or valid prescription drugs like muscle relaxers, is just as illegal as driving drunk.
It is also worth noting that operating under the influence of doctor prescribed medications is not an excuse or defense against DUI. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, or SAMHSA, did a survey in 2010 that found that almost 10 million Americans operated a vehicle under the influence of drugs in 2009. In a study conducted by the National Highway Safety Traffic Administration, over 18 percent of drivers that were fatally injured did test positive for at least one illegal or prescription drug.
The laws in every state today say you can be charged with DUI or DWI for driving under the influence of legal prescription medication. In these types of cases, we provide the best ways to beat medication or controlled substance DUI charges in court effectively.
How Law Enforcement Measures DUI Drug Impairment (DUI-D)
Driving under the influence of alcohol is illegal in all 50 of the U.S. states. Having a blood alcohol concentration, or BAC, of 0.08 percent or higher is the legal limit in most cases. Since the body flushes alcohol from the system at a rapid pace, it is very easy for law enforcement to test a driver’s BAC at the time of the traffic stop with a Breathalyzer test, which is generally very accurate. While testing for alcohol in a driver’s system is relatively easy, testing for impairment from drug use is more difficult.
An example of this is the psychoactive component found in marijuana, known as THC. THC is detectable in the human body through urine and blood analysis for up to five weeks after use – this means there is no way for law enforcement to determine if the driver’s abilities were impaired at the time of the traffic stop. This also provides excellent defenses how to get out of Marijuana DUI charges and beat a case. Other substances, such as Cocaine, leave the body after 48 hours, making it slightly easier to identify whether or not the drivers judgment would have been compromised during the traffic stop.
Some states have begun to include training for police officers to become Drug Recognition Experts or DREs and educate them on the specific guidelines that help to determine drug impairment in drivers. DREs will looks closely at the subject’s eye movement, overall behavior, and other cues that will lead them to determine if drug influence is present. Currently, 44 U.S. states and the District of Columbia have Drug Classification and Evaluation Program in place to train DREs in the police force.
“Per Se” Laws for Drugged Driving
Prosecuting motorists for being under the influence of drugs is decidedly more difficult than doing so for motorists under the influence of alcohol. While this may be the case, 15 U.S. states have adopted what is known as “per se” laws for drugged drivers. These laws essentially make it illegal to operate a vehicle if the driver has a specified amount of any drug related substance in their system. The states that have adopted these 2023 “per se” drugged driving laws include:
- Rhode Island
Nevada, Ohio, and Virginia have limits for the presence of drugs in the driver’s system while the remaining 12 states have a “no tolerance” policy. Some states, like North Carolina and South Dakota, make it illegal for minors to drive under the influence of any substance, drugs, or alcohol, in any detectable amount. In states like California, Colorado, Kansas, Idaho, and West Virginia, it is illegal for any known drug addicts or known habitual drug users to operate a motor vehicle at all.
Over-the-Counter and Prescription Drug Driving Impairments
Can you be charged with a DUI or DWI for legal prescription medication in every state? Since each state now has DUI laws that include being under the influence of legal drugs, it is important to know the affects these medications can have on drivers including how to fight and get out of DUI-D charges if arrested. OTC (over-the-counter) and prescription drugs can be just as dangerous for motorists as illegal drugs and can still trigger a DUI charge even if they are legally prescribed by a doctor. Some common prescription and OTC drugs have the following effects:
- Valium: Valium is a popular tranquilizer and even taken at the normal 10 mg dosage can cause a driver to have the same impairment as one with a 0.10 BAC.
- Antidepressants: Some antidepressants have a sedating quality, which can impair drivers much in the same way as alcohol can.
- Decongestants: Many OTC decongestants and cold medicines, even though they may state they are non-drowsy, can cause drowsiness, dizziness, and anxiety that makes driving dangerous.
- Hydrocodone: Hydrocodone is a very commonly prescribed pain reliever, which is a main component of Vicodin. This substance has a similar effect on the body as opiates and causes impairment that is similar to the effects of codeine and morphine.
- Antihistamines: OTC antihistamines can impair a driver’s coordination and also slow reaction time.
Being Charged with DUI for Use of Prescribed Medication
Since many state laws make no distinction between being under the influence of illegal drugs and alcohol or being under the influence of legally prescribed drugs, DUI charges for prescribed medications are handled in much the same way as traditional DUI cases. During this case, the arresting officer will present a combination of facts against the driver including:
- If they were making reckless maneuvers
- Weaving in and out of the driving lane
- Failing to observe street signs, speed limits, and other safety signs
- Showing slow reactions to road hazards or other events on the road
This evidence will be combined with any evidence that the driver had a legal drug in their system that carries known side effects for impairment or slowed reaction times. This combination of evidence will often lead the driver to be charged and convicted of DUI or Driving While Intoxicated (DWI). However, a driver who is prepared and knows what happens for a first DUI offense as early as possible after an arrest, will have the best chances at getting prescription medication DUI charges dismissed.
How to Fight a DUI Case with Legal Prescription Drugs
What should I do if I was arrested for a DUI charge for driving under the influence of my valid prescription medication? Fighting a DUI or DWI charge, whether the drugs were illegal or legal, is done in the same way. The charged driver or their family members should seek the help of a knowledgeable DUI or DWI attorney who is well versed in the DUI laws for the state that the individual was arrested.
Expert DUI-D attorneys can review all of the evidence of the case, including the procedure followed by law enforcement and results of any field sobriety tests that were given. This will help to ensure that the driver’s legal rights were upheld during the arrest process and that any medical evidence is valid in the eyes of the court.
If at all possible, it is important to retain the legal help of a Board Certified defense attorney nearby who specializes in prescription medication DUI-related cases. Although all states will offer free legal counsel to those who are arrested, many of these public defenders are handling a number of different cases and may not have the expertise needed to fight a complicated DUI case.
Retaining an attorney who specializes in Driving Under the Influence and Driving While Intoxicated cases within the state the individual was arrested is usually the best way to fight DUI charges for legal prescription drugs.
Additionally, we provide a free arrest review online to give advice on how to challenge this type of DUI for prescription medication case as it pertains to a driver’s own set of unique circumstances.
Taryn J. White is a legal research specialist and DUI law news reporter. Her current accomplishments include helping those facing any driving under the influence arrest charges, get free online assistance in learning how to fight a DUI case for the best possible outcome.