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Prescription Drugs & Drugged Driving – Things You Have To Know

Updated on November 28, 2019
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Michelle White is the Content Marketing Strategist for Arizona DUI Team. She helps spreads awareness on DUI and vehicular-related offenses.

It’s admirable how governments and private organizations have been working over the years to raise awareness about the dangers of drunk driving. However, much of their campaigns are primarily focused on driving under the influence of alcohol. Considering how the number of drugged driving incidents is rising, perhaps it’s time for driving under the influence of drugs to get the same level of attention.

Now, it’s natural to assume that drugged driving only covers people caught with controlled substances like cocaine, crystal meth, and marijuana in their system while behind the wheel. What you need to know, however, is you can still be charged with drugged driving even if you only took prescription drugs.

Prescription Drugs Can Impair One’s Driving

Like alcohol, prescription drugs are legal. However, most prescription medications have side effects that may impair the abilities that are so crucial to safe driving.

Prescription painkillers, for example, can cause drowsiness, among other things. Since many painkillers are opioids, they have similar effects as heroin, which is itself an opioid.

Benzodiazepines, which are prescribed as an anxiety-reducing drug, also happens to be a sedative, which can make a driver sleep behind the wheel.

Even maintenance medications for hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease have side effects which could impair one’s ability to drive safely.

With side effects that may also include blurred vision, nausea, and difficulty concentrating, prescription drugs can make driving quite a challenge, and could endanger not only the person driving the vehicle, but also other drivers, pedestrians, and their passengers.

The Charge Is Called DUID

All US states have drugged driving laws in place. So if you are found out to have been driving while on hard drugs like cocaine or prescription medication, you are going to face DUID or driving under the influence of drugs charges.

Your Prescription Is Not A Pass In Some States

If you’re a prescription medication taker and you believe that bringing your doctor’s actual, written prescription with you while driving will get you out of trouble once you’re stopped for a DUID, think again. The drugged driving laws in several states specifically state that even if you’re legally entitled to use a drug, it’s not an acceptable defense to a DUID charge. These states are:

  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Delaware
  • Georgia
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • North Carolina
  • Oklahoma
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Vermont
  • Washington
  • West Virginia

Arizona’s Per Se Drugged Driving Laws

Arizona enforces some of the toughest DUI laws in the United States, and true to form, it has a per se prohibition in place when it comes to drugged driving.

A per se prohibition means drugged driving is inherently illegal in Arizona. So if the police stop you on reasonable suspicion that you have any amount of prohibited drugs in your system, you can expect to be arrested.

It’s also important to note that Section 13-3401 of the Arizona code lists opioids and benzodiazepines as prohibited substances, so if you have a prescription for these medications and you have them in your system at the time you were stopped, you will likely be brought in by police.

It’s All About Proving Impairment

As with DUI, the key to a DUID case is whether or not you were impaired at the time of your arrest. So when police ask you to pull over, you can expect to answer the officer’s questions and undergo field sobriety tests or FSTs, which, in all honesty, are a very subjective way of determining impairment.

In any case, police officers will use the results of your FSTs as a basis for either letting you go or arresting you. In case of an arrest, you will be brought to the station for tests that will confirm the presence of drugs in your system.

Consequences of Drugged Driving

States may differ when it comes to their punishments for drugged driving, but the consequences are similar to those of DUI. A DUID conviction could mean jail time, heavy fines, and driver’s license revocation.

A DUID conviction will also become a prior or subsequent offense, and this will be used for calculating the sentence, regardless of whether the subsequent offense is alcohol or drug-related or not.

Should you find yourself getting arrested for a DUID, you should get the services of an experienced attorney who specializes in defending people accused of drugged driving. Your chances of getting the best results would be so much better when you have a DUID specialist representing you in court.


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