Can You Get A DUI For Taking Prescription Drugs?

Posted on: 9 November 2018

When most people think about DUI, they think of someone driving under the influence of alcohol. But the term "driving under the influence" is quite vague for a reason. A person can be charged with driving under the influence not only when they're under the influence of alcohol, but also when they are under the influence of drugs. And no, this does not just mean strictly illegal drugs like heroin and cocaine. People can also be charged with a DUI for driving under the influence of certain prescription drugs. Here are some questions you may have about this situation, especially if you are someone who takes prescription drugs.

Which prescription drugs can cause you to get a DUI?

Technically speaking, you could get charged for driving under the influence of any prescription drug that alters your ability to think, act, and reason. There are six classes of medications that are common culprits.

1. Pain relievers like oxycontin and codeine are known to cause dizziness and drowsiness, and you therefore should not drive when taking them. 

2. Some antihistamines are known to cause drowsiness. Benadryl is a good example, although it's not strictly a prescription medication. 

3. Antidepressants like Prozac can cause drowsiness in some patients. Although many people can safely drive when taking these meds, it's a good idea to avoid driving when you first start taking them so you can gauge how the drug affects you. If the medication affects you too much for you to safely drive while on it, your doctor can recommend a different antidepressant.

4. Beta blockers and other blood pressure medications can cause you to feel sluggish, which slows your reaction time.

5. Muscle relaxers like Valium are meant to have a sedative effect, so it's no surprise that they make driving unsafe.

6. Stimulants can make you overly impulsive, which may lead to unsafe driving.

So is it illegal to drive when taking these medications?

Strictly speaking, no—as long as you have a prescription for the medication, you are well within your rights to take it, and it is not technically illegal for you to drive when taking it. What is illegal is for you to drive when your ability to do so safely has been impaired. You must use your judgment to decide whether your medication affects you too negatively for you to safely drive. Of course, this varies by medication. Oxycodone, for example, is very likely to affect almost everyone who takes it to the point of making it unsafe for them to drive. Antidepressants, on the other hand, only rarely cause issues. If you know you are impaired due to your medication and climb behind the wheel anyways, that's where you went wrong—and when you can be charged with a DUI.

What if you get caught driving while under the influence of a medication you do not have a prescription for?

In this situation, you really have two problems. You can be charged with a DUI, and you can also be charged for illegal drug possession. Even if the drugs you are taking are legal by prescription, they are illegal for you to be taking if you do not have a prescription. 

What should you do if you are charged with a DUI and do not feel your abilities were impaired?

Since the line between driving while impaired and simply driving with legal prescription drugs in your system is so blurry, this happens a lot. If you feel you have been wrongly charged with a DUI—perhaps you made a silly driving mistake, but it has nothing to do with meds you are taking—contact a DUI lawyer ASAP. They are used to defending people like you, and they can collaborate with your physician to argue against the charges. 

DUIs can get complicated! If you are concerned whether or not you should drive when taking a certain drug, talk to your doctor. If they advise you that it is safe to drive and you are then arrested for doing so, their testimony could then help you get out of the charges.