When you think of a charge for driving under the influence, chances are that alcohol is foremost in your mind. The truth is that people can be charged for driving under the influence when they have any substance in their system that impairs their ability to drive — including over-the-counter and prescription medications. Keep reading to learn more from our skilled Pennsylvania DUI lawyer.
Prescription medications commonly involved in DUI
It may seem unusual to consider that you can get a DUI for prescription medication, but depending on the drug, you may be as much at risk as if you were drunk. If you can’t obey traffic laws and signals or drive erratically, you could be subject to being stopped and charged with DUI.
Common prescription medicines and their effects on your driving include the following.
Medicines that help you with symptoms of a cold, the flu, or allergies may clear up a runny nose, but they all also tend to make you sleepy. Histamines are factors in the body that help keep you awake, so you risk being drowsy while driving if you get behind the wheel after taking these medications. While over-the-counter drugs can cause these symptoms, a prescribed antihistamine medicine can have an even stronger effect.
Medications for high blood pressure
The prescription medication you take to reduce your blood pressure will slow your heart rate and nerve impulses, which can cause drowsiness. You may also feel dizzy, which can also affect your ability to drive safely. Since many drunk drivers are also dizzy, you may appear to be drunk to a police officer and be arrested for DUI.
Much like antihistamines, prescription and over-the-counter drugs that help with diarrhea can make you very sleepy. These contain a substance called loperamide, which can cause you to be dizzy, nauseous, and drowsy, which could make you have trouble controlling your vehicle.
Some of the most commonly prescribed drugs to fight anxiety can cause drowsiness and muscle weakness, leaving you at risk for suspicion of a DUI if you drive while taking them. These include Xanax, Valium, Ativan, and Klonopin.
Most doctors will request chemotherapy patients to have a responsible driver transport them to and from their chemotherapy treatments. This is because the drugs take a tremendous toll on the patient’s body, leaving them exhausted and likely to have a reduced reaction time while driving.
Both over-the-counter and prescription medications that stimulate the patient’s system can cause them to “crash” or become sleepy or weak unexpectedly. If this happens while driving, the police will probably suspect you of DUI and put you under arrest.
When you need pain relief after surgery, your doctor may prescribe OxyContin, Vicodin, or something similar. These, like many other drugs, are likely to make you very sleepy to dull the pain and allow you to rest. You can slur words, have trouble thinking clearly, and be unable to react to sudden situations when driving. As such, you could end up with a DUI from the pain medication.
Situations where you can be charged with DUI without having anything to drink
When an officer charges someone with DUI, they only need to prove that you were in control of a vehicle and that your ability to drive was impaired by some substance. For example:
- You have been fighting a terrible cough for weeks and finally decide to take over-the-counter cold medicine. The medicine includes a warning on the label that consumers should not drive after taking it because it can cause drowsiness. You take the medicine before work because you don’t want to spend the day coughing, and you get in your car to head to work.
- While driving, you begin to feel drowsy and weave in and out of your lane in front of a police officer. The officer suspects that you are impaired and charges you with DUI. The charges could very well stick and negatively affect your life.
Any person who takes over-the-counter medication should be sure to read the label before they take the medication and drive. Likewise, any person taking prescription medication should talk to their doctor or pharmacist to find out if the medication may cause drowsiness or dull the senses in some way. Being charged with driving under the influence is a very real risk for people taking certain medications.
Requirements for a prescription DUI charge
There are three main requirements to charge you with DUI:
- You are operating a motor vehicle.
- Your ability to drive is impaired.
- The impairment is the result of consuming alcohol or drugs.
Even if you have a valid prescription for a medication, the fact that it causes you to operate the car unsafely is what police use to take you off the road. They’ll conduct a field sobriety test or may arrest you and conduct a blood or saliva test at the station.
Common symptoms of impairment include:
- Erratic driving
- Inability to focus or recall details
- Slurred or slow speech
- Red, droopy, or glazed-over eyes
A conviction for driving under the influence can have lasting implications. A person may find it difficult to secure employment, enter traffic school, and more. These issues are in addition to any fines or punishments handed down by a court of law. Any person who is charged with DUI should consult an experienced Pennsylvania DUI lawyer to help mitigate the consequences of their charge.
Preventing DUI from prescription medication
Any person who takes over-the-counter medication should be sure to read the label before they take the medication and drive. Likewise, any person taking prescription medication should talk to their doctor or pharmacist to find out if the medication may cause drowsiness or dull the senses in some way.
If a medication is known to cause drowsiness, a person is better off finding alternate transportation than driving themselves. Being charged with driving under the influence is a very real risk for people taking certain medications.
If you have been charged with driving under the influence in Philadelphia, contact the experienced team at the Law Offices of Steven E. Kellis. We will review the details of your arrest and charges at no cost to you and advise you of your legal options. Schedule your free consultation by calling (215) 977-4183 or using our online form today.