Driving under the influence of drugs, be they prescribed by your physician, can lead to you getting a DUI, much as you would while driving under the influence of alcohol. But the differences between how alcohol intoxication and how drug intoxication can be measured, make driving under the influence of drugs a rather gray area. Here is everything you need to know about how possible it is for you to get a DUI while on prescription drugs, and what does the process look like.
How Can You Measure Drug Impairment?
As we’ve mentioned, determining the level of intoxication of a person who has been driving while under the influence of drugs is not as straightforward as in the case of alcohol consumption. However, the most common types of tests to determine drug impairment are blood and urine tests. But the problem with these tests is that in the case of some drugs, the substance can still be found in your body hours or even days after you have ingested it. That means that there is no definite way of knowing if you are actively affected by said substance at the time of the test.
The other way of measuring impairment due to drug use seems to be even less exact that the first. There are trained police officers that are called Drug Recognition Experts (DREs), that can examine a driver and check for signs of drug impairment such as unusual eye movements, strange behavior, and so on.
Prescription Drug Impairment
Even if usually, when we say drugs, we think of illegal drugs, there are drugs that can be either bought by you from the pharmacy (the so-called over-the-counter drugs), or prescribed to you by your doctor. They can also be dangerous if taken while driving, and they can also get you convicted for DUI. For instance, here are some of the most common drugs that can be found in the pharmacy and that can affect a driver: Valium, antidepressants, decongestants, antihistamines, sleeping pills, and hydrocodone.
There are states such as Massachusetts or California, whose laws specifically single out prescription drugs as also leading to a DUI. In Pennsylvania, the penalties of being caught driving while under the influence of prescription drugs are extremely severe. You can get a fine, lose your license, or even go to jail. You will also get a permanent criminal record, which can affect your ability to get a job or a loan. Even if state laws differ, you can get arrested for a DUI due to prescribed medication in all 50 states.
Medical marijuana is another type of prescribed drug that can get one charged with a DUI. Even if that person lives in a state where the medical use of marijuana is legal, that does not exempt them from a DUI. So if there is enough evidence of marijuana impairment, no prescription can make the matter go away.
How Does the Process Work?
How exactly are you going to get a DUI while driving on prescription medication? Well, to start at the beginning, if you get pulled over, you will most likely be tested for alcohol impairment first, starting with some Standardized Field Sobriety Tests, such as the Walk and Turn. If you show signs of impairment, you will have to subject to a Breathalyzer Test. If you blow zero, that is when the tests for drug impairment come into play.
A Drug Recognition Expert might be called, and you will have to take blood or urine tests. The results of such tests will be ready between 4 and 8 weeks. But since you could have taken a prescription drug the night before, yet the substance to still be in your blood, it is up to the Drug Recognition Expert to guess that. If you are impaired during the time of the arrest, you can be charged with a DUID (driving under the influence of drugs), in which case a prescription from the doctor would not help you very much. But in this case, the blood tests may help you prove you are not guilty.
Prescription Medication Commonly Involved in DUI Cases
There are many prescription drugs that affect a person’s ability to drive a vehicle, and a lot of people fail to pay attention to the prescription that comes with such drugs. Here are two of the most common drugs that people involved in DUI cases take, and how they can cause impairment:
- Ambien: This prescription drug is used to treat insomnia and it has side effects such as euphoria, confusion, drowsiness, dizziness, problems with balance, or visual changes. The prescription also states that it may impair your reactions and that you should wait until being fully awake the next day before driving.
- Xanax: This drug prescribed to treat anxiety and panic has side effects such as blurred vision, trouble concentrating, dizziness, drowsiness, or memory issues.
The issue is that even if you stick to what the prescription says, consuming such drugs and then driving can still affect your abilities. Side effects must also be considered at all times.
The Future of Prescription Drugs and DUIs
There are two main conclusions to be drawn from the current state of DUI laws regarding prescription drugs. First, there is a clear need of more conclusive and reliable tests that can exactly determine if you were actually impaired by prescription drugs at the moment you were driving a vehicle, or if the substance contained in the medication was only left in your system from a prior use of the drug. Secondly, it is quite clear that the laws against driving under the influence of prescription medication are really strict, which is a positive thing. It means that no matter if you took drugs illegally or if a doctor prescribed them to you, your safety and the safety of others is more important.
Finally, we hope the short guide we provided answered any questions you might have had about prescription drugs and DUIs.