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DUI Stops and Prescription Drugs

March 6, 2017

When most people think about drug-based DUI stops, they assume the driver was taking illegal drugs. Maybe the driver was taking completely illicit substances or prescription drugs that did not belong to him or her. However, you may be surprised to learn that even taking your own perfectly legal prescription medicine can lead to a DUI stop and even charges.

How Officers Decide to Make a DUI Stop

Most often, police officers will stop a vehicle when they observe the driver acting in a way that is consistent with impairment. Signs of impairment typically include erratic driving, weaving in and out of traffic, failing to stay in one’s lane, an inability to keep a proper distance from other cars and jerky starts and stops. At this point, the officers do not know specifically what is causing this behavior.

Prescription Drugs Can Affect Your Driving

It is important to understand that taking prescription drugs can affect your driving similarly to illegal drugs and alcohol. Painkillers and anti-insomnia medications can cause sleepiness, vertigo, slow reaction times, bad judgment and compromised physical coordination. Other, less well-known medications can also have these effects. This is true even if you take the medicine precisely as instructed. Changing the dosage or combining your medicine with alcohol or other medications can amplify potential side effects.

Safety Precautions when Taking Medication

Discuss potential side effects with your doctor, including whether they can affect your driving. Even if you learn that side effects are unlikely, keep in mind that some people can experience atypical effects. To stay on the safe side, do not drive after taking your medicine until you are completely sure you can do so safely.

What Happens After the Stop

If officers stop you, they will usually ask you to take a breath test and a field sobriety test. The breath test will only measure the blood alcohol in your bloodstream. The sobriety test aims to gauge basic mental and physical coordination. Neither of these methods is foolproof, and both can deliver falsely positive results.

You may then have to take a blood or urine test. These tests can take weeks to process, and in the meantime, you will deal with all the hassles of a DUI charge. More problems can arise if your prescription is old or your medicine is not in its original container.

Many people think that once prosecutors realize the drugs were legal, they will drop everything. There are indeed several ways to challenge this type of DUI charge, as prosecutors often have trouble proving their cases. However, this process will still affect your life.

Having a case pending against you for several weeks can affect your license and professional standing. You will also now have a record of an arrest, even after prosecutors drop the case. For this reason, if you take prescription drugs, it is important to consider how they may affect your driving. If you have concerns about a DUI stop, speak with a qualified attorney as soon as possible to get effective help.