DUI For Prescription Drugs
You know that drinking and driving don’t mix. But did you know that driving while taking prescription medications can be just as dangerous, even if your doctor legally prescribed those drugs? Not only is driving under the influence (DUI) of certain medications dangerous, it’s also illegal under Alabama law.
If you have been accused of driving while impaired by prescription drugs, you may face serious criminal charges that could affect you for the rest of your life. A knowledgeable Phenix City DUI attorney at Bence Law Firm can help you investigate the charges and establish a sound legal defense strategy. Contact us today for a free case review.
Understanding DUI and Prescription Drugs
Like every other state, Alabama has “per se” DUI laws that prohibit people from driving when they have certain levels of alcohol or other intoxicants in their system. However, per se DUI laws usually only provide maximum blood concentration levels for alcohol and common illegal drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, and methamphetamine.
Because alcohol affects everyone differently and perfectly legal substances can intoxicate people, there is another type of DUI charge in Alabama known as an “impairment DUI.” Instead of measuring the concentration of intoxicating substances in someone’s body, impairment DUIs are based on how a substance affects a driver, regardless of the type or amount of the substance.
Since impairment DUIs are not based on any blood or breath test results, law enforcement officers typically perform field sobriety tests to determine whether drivers are intoxicated. You can be charged with an impairment DUI if an officer decides that you seem impaired by drugs, alcohol, or any combination of substances to the point that you cannot drive safely. A legal prescription for the intoxicating substance is not a valid legal defense for an impairment DUI.
It’s important to note that you do not need to be operating a moving vehicle to be charged with an impairment DUI in Alabama. According to state law, officers only need to prove that you are in “actual physical control” of a vehicle to issue DUI citations. To be in actual physical control of a car, you must have the exclusive ability to operate, move, park, or direct the use or non-use of the vehicle.
Knowing the Risks of Driving While Taking Prescription Drugs
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), most prescription medications do not impact your ability to drive safely. However, some common prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs can have dangerous side effects, such as:
- Drowsiness and fatigue
- Blurred vision
- Nausea and dizziness
- Slowed reaction time
- Decreased focus
A AAA survey detailed some of the most alarming risks associated with driving while taking prescription medications. According to their findings:
- Nearly half of Americans said they took at least one prescription drug within the past 30 days. More than 30 percent said they took two or more prescription drugs, and 11 percent said they took three or more.
- Certain types of antidepressant medications increase the risk of being involved in an accident by 41 percent.
- Diphenhydramine, a common ingredient in OTC sleep and anti-allergy medications, has been demonstrated to impair your ability to maintain safe speeds, lane positions, and following distance while driving.
- Driving after taking just one dose of diphenhydramine is comparable to driving with a blood alcohol concentration above the legal limit.
- Nearly half of the drugs (46.5 percent) found in drugged drivers involved in fatal accidents are prescription medications.
- The most common prescription drugs associated with accident-related injuries and fatalities are benzodiazepines and opiates.
Legal Consequences of a Medication-Based DWI Conviction
If you are convicted of a medication-based DWI in Alabama, you could face the following legal consequences:
- First-time offenses: Between $600 and $2,100 in fines, up to one year in prison, and a 90-day license suspension
- Second-time offenses: Between $1,100 and $5,100 in fines, a minimum of five days in prison or 30 days of community service, up to one year in prison, and a one-year license suspension
- Third-time offenses: Between $2,100 and $10,100 in fines, a minimum of 60 days and up to one year in prison, and a three-year license suspension
- Fourth and subsequent offenses: Class C felonies, which carry penalties of $4,100 to $10,100 in fines, one to 10 years in prison, and a five-year license suspension
Tips to Reduce Risk of Driving & Mixing Prescription Drugs
There are several steps you can take to reduce your risk of impaired driving if you take prescription or OTC drugs:
- Talk to your doctor or pharmacist. Let your healthcare providers know about any other drugs you are taking so they can advise you of any potential interactions. Also, tell them about any reactions or side effects that you experience.
- Don’t drive after taking new medications. If it’s your first time taking a new medication, avoid driving until you know how the drug will affect you.
- Request printed side effect information. If you don’t receive printed information about a drug’s side effects when you pick up your prescription, request a copy from the pharmacy.
- Follow medication directions and warnings: Read all directions and warning labels on your medication’s packaging carefully to learn possible side effects and ensure you are taking the correct amount.
- Follow your doctor’s dosage recommendations: Do not take more medication than your doctor prescribes, and do not stop using a prescribed drug unless your doctor advises you to do so.
How a Defense Lawyer Can Help You
In Alabama, driving under the influence of prescription drugs is a serious offense. If you were charged with medication-based DUI, you should immediately get advice from an experienced DUI/DWI attorney.
At Bence Law Firm, we’ll investigate your case to uncover valuable evidence about the nature of the traffic stop, the officers who cited you, and medical records related to your prescription. Depending on the circumstances of your case, your charges could be reduced or dismissed altogether.