Can You Be Charged With A DWI For Prescribed Medication?
When we think about driving impairment DUI laws, we think about someone who is driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, but rarely consider if doctor-prescribed, legal drugs could lead to impaired driving. The unfortunate reality is that prescription drugs like cough medicines, pain meds, anxiety medications, allergy medicines, and other commonly prescribed legal drugs have dangerous side effects that have the potential to lead to a DUI charge.
The Raleigh DWI attorneys at Kirk, Kirk Law have represented clients who had not been drinking or on any illegal substances, but were charged with a DWI because they were taking prescribed medication. Whether it’s due to warning label side effects or exceeding the prescribed dosage, there are several reasons that over-the-counter medications and legally prescribed medicines may lead to impaired driving.
What Is a DWI or Driving Under the Influence?
The difference between a DWI and DUI is small, and the terms are often used interchangeably. A DWI stands for driving while intoxicated or impaired, whereas DUI means driving under the influence. Technically speaking, in North Carolina DUI laws make driving under the influence of prescription drugs illegal if those drugs lead to impairments.
Per Se DUI Laws
To receive a DUI charge related to a lawful drug, a person must be:
- Operating or driving a vehicle;
- Under the influence or intoxicated.
A per se DUI charge is based on the amount of a substance that is found to be in the driver’s blood at the time of their DUI arrest. When it comes to blood alcohol level (BAC) it’s illegal to operate a vehicle if one’s BAC is above the legal limit- at or exceeding 0.08 BAC.
But, how does one judge if the intoxication is due to a legal drug prescribed by a physician? This would lead to what’s called Impairment DUI charges.
Impairment DUI Laws
If any prescribed or over-the-counter medicines lead to impaired driving, it’s usually detected during a field sobriety test.
Common signs of prescription drug impairments are:
- Extreme drowsiness;
- Dizziness or confusion;
- A lack of hand and eye coordination;
- A slower than usual reaction time;
- Unusual or strange behavior;
- Erratic driving;
- Slurred or slowed speech patterns;
- Inability to focus;
- Red, droopy, drowsy-looking eyes.
If the arresting officer detects any of the above warning signs of intoxication, you can be arrested and face potential jail time, whether the substance(s) consumed were illegal drugs or prescription medication.
If you are currently facing DUI charges for driving while taking prescription drugs, contact our prescription medications DUI defense lawyers to help!
Can You Be Charged with a DWI if You’re Using Prescribed Medication?
Many Americans take prescription drugs for a variety of purposes, but it’s important to read warning labels about the potential side effects and the proper dosage, so you can know if you should or should not get behind the wheel of a vehicle while taking them.
For instance, many cough medications cite drowsiness and certain concentration impairments and present a warning against driving if you are taking it. If you violate state law by driving under the influence of cough syrups, muscle relaxants, or other prescribed meds, you can face arrest if your impaired driving ability alerts a police officer while on the road.
What Kinds of Prescription Medications Can Lead to DUIs?
Side effects of some medications can lead to mental distress, poor or clouded judgment, erratic behavior, or sleepiness, among other things. It’s important to read warning labels, comply with the recommended dosage, and not drive under the influence of the drugs could cause drowsiness or confusion.
Here are the types of medications whose side effects could lead to impaired driving:
- Narcotic pain medicines;
- Anti-anxiety drugs;
- Cough syrups;
- Sleeping pills;
Factors That Determine If a Person Can Be Charged with Driving Under The Influence Of Prescription Drugs
When evaluating the influence of prescription drugs on a person’s system for prescription drug DUIs, it comes down to the evidence for the state to build a case against you.
This evidence includes:
- The amount of alcohol or drugs in your system;
- How the prescription drug is labeled and prescribed;
- How the drug affects your ability to drive safely;
- State laws regarding operating vehicles while under the influence of prescription medications.
Many North Carolina residents taking these prescribed medications may not realize how their bodies will react to them and that they could actually be impaired by such prescriptions. Many people assume that if the medicine is prescribed to them, then that is a defense against DWI, but that is not the truth.
How Does the Court View a DWI by Medical Impairment?
If someone is charged with DWI due to a medication, the prosecutor has the burden of proving that there was an impairing substance in their system and that such substance caused them to be “appreciably impaired.” Bad performance on field sobriety tests and the presence of an impairing substance have been enough for prosecutors in the past to convince a judge that someone should be convicted of DWI.
These types of DWIs are not dealt with any differently than alcohol-related DWIs when it comes to sentencing and punishment.
If you are taking a prescribed medication, please talk to your doctor about any possible side effects that could result from taking that medication and whether or not it is safe for you to operate a vehicle while taking that medication. If the doctor tells you not to drive while taking this medication, then be sure to make other transportation arrangements.
Benefits of Working with an Experienced Raleigh, NC Criminal Defense Attorney for DUI Prescription Drug Charges
If you have been charged with a prescription drug DUI, it’s important to have an experience, knowledgeable, and reputable DUI attorney to represent your case. Our NC DUI law firm understands the complexities surrounding your case. We have successfully proven strategies to build a defense against DUI charges for prescription drugs.
Contact Kirk, Kirk Law for Assistance with Your NC DWI Charge
If you have been charged with a DWI or DUI in North Carolina due to prescribed medication, please contact a Raleigh attorney at Kirk, Kirk, Howell, Cutler & Thomas, L.L.P. Our exceptional team of DUI attorneys has the resources and strategies you need to defend against prescription drug charges.
Call our Raleigh law office today at (919) 615-2473 or fill out the form below to get started.
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