Can I be arrested for a DUI after taking prescription medications?


Can you really be arrested for a DUI for driving after taking prescription medication?  Everyone knows the risk of drinking alcohol and driving, but few realize the potential for being arrested for driving after taking legally prescribed medications.  Probably 1/4 of the DUI cases that come into my office are prescription medication DUIs.

Just so there is no ambiguity, I am not talking just about driving after abusing prescription medications.  What I am talking about here is someone who takes their medications as prescribed by their doctor, and then operates a motor vehicle.  Taking medication as prescribed is not a defense to a DUI.

There are many medications that, when taken as prescribed, can cause you to be legally impaired.  Tranquilizers like Vicadin, Narcotic Pain Pills like Oxycotin, Sleep Medicines like Ambian and Seroquil, Antidepressants, Anti-anxiety Medications like Xanax, Cough Medicines like NyQuil, Antihistamines, Decongestants, and many other medications can impair your ability to drive, and be a basis to charge you with a DUI.

If you are on prescription drugs when you are stopped, you may be investigated for a DUI.  The police officer is likely to investigate you first for a traditional alcohol DUI and begin by performing the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests.  These are the typical tests you have probably seen on television, the Walk and Turn test, the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test, and the One Leg Stand test.  The Officer then has you blow into a breath alcohol device, and after you blow zeros, he will begin his investigation into other possible substances causing your perceived impairment.  He is likely to call in a “Drug Recognition Expert”.  The Drug Recognition Expert will conduct a battery of tests to try to approximate what type of medications or other drugs you may be on.  He will then either have you submit a urine sample, or draw your blood.

Your blood or urine will be submitted to a lab, and within 4-8 weeks you will get a result back indicating the types of drugs that you have taken.  The Drug Recognition Expert will hope that his prediction of what medications you had taken will be the medications that end up coming back on the lab results.

Part of the problem with prescription drug DUI cases is that just because you have a medication come back in your blood does not necessarily mean you took the medication recently.  For example you may have taken Ambien the night before to help you sleep.  Ambien could still be detected in your blood and urine the next day, even though you are no longer under the influence of that medication.  If you think about it this is quite alarming.  If you are taking a medication that could impair your ability to drive, even if you do not drive while you are under the influence of it, it is still possible that you could still be charged with a DUI based on a test that could be picking up traces of the medication you took yesterday.  This is purpose of the Drug Recognition Expert, he is there to offset the fact that drugs in your blood doesn’t mean you are under the influence.  If he guesses what you are on before seeing the results it lends credibility to their case.

If you have been charged with a DUI based on prescription medications, call an attorney today to discuss your options.  Prescription medication DUI cases are quite defensible, and often difficult for the State of Idaho to prove.  If you are on prescription medications that have the potential of impairing your driving, be careful, you may end up being charged with a DUI even if you weren’t under the influence of the medication while you were driving.

Boise, Idaho Criminal Defense Attorney

Craig Atkinson is the lead attorney at Atkinson Law Office,
Boise DUI and Criminal Attorneys. It is located at 1087 W River St #290, Boise, ID 83702. You can call him anytime at 208.571.0627.

Ask Craig to review your case.

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