Many driving under the influence (DUI) arrests come from people driving after consuming alcohol or illegal drugs. However, believe it or not, many prescription drugs can impair ones ability to drive, and therefore lead to a DUI stop and arrest. This is occasionally referred to as "drugged driving."
How Can Legal or Prescription Drugs Lead to a DUI?
Consider the following. Most DUI statutes essentially contain the following two elements:
- A person drove a vehicle
- While under the influence of a substance that impairs their ability to drive
It may seem counterintuitive that a drug prescribed by a doctor could cause legal problems. However, considering those elements, it makes sense that any substance that impairs ones ability could lead to a DUI arrest. Additionally, many of these drugs contain warnings not to operate a motor vehicle due to the side effects they produce. The following are prescription drugs that should be taken with caution before operating a motor vehicle:
- Pain Killers
Indeed, many states even include a section for stimulants or narcotics—prescription or otherwise—as drugs that fall under the ambit of their DUI statute. Interestingly, however, California forbids anyone who has a drug addiction (even a legal one) from operating a motor vehicle, but also creates a caveat for those using methadone or heroin to curtail an addiction. This is not to imply that those driving under the influence of those drugs will necessarily escape a DUI arrest, but it may help reinforce a position that those individuals were not actually impaired by that drug.
How Can Impairment from Drugs Be Measured?
This is the biggest issue posed by DUIs from prescription drugs, legal drugs, and even illegal drugs. As of now, there are no concrete standards for measuring how much of a drug—legal or otherwise—it takes to impair a driver. By contrast, the legal limit of alcohol someone can have in his or her blood is .08%.
Therefore, the primary way officers will be able to justify an arrest for DUI from prescription drugs will be subjective factors, such as an appearance of drowsiness or slurred speech. Other factors may include:
- Admission by the driver that they are on medication
- Failing field sobriety tests
- Swerving, speeding, or breaking traffic laws
Once arrested, the police may conduct a blood test to confirm their suspicions. However, these tests indicate the presence of a drug and not necessarily how much, let alone provide guidance in terms of whether the amount would impair that particular person.
Seeking Legal Advice
While DUIs from prescription or legal drugs are nothing new, the issue is getting increased attention from law enforcement. DUIs carry very serious criminal sentences, and can impact other areas of your life as well. This is particularly true in states with medical or decriminalized marijuana. If you are facing prosecution for a DUI from a drug you were prescribed, seeking the advice of an experienced DUI/DWI lawyer will be the best way to ensure your rights are protected.