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DUIs and Prescription Drugs: 3 Things Every Driver Should Know

By Brett Snider, Esq. | Last updated on

Prescription drugs have become a real part of many drivers' lives, but they can present a real danger of DUI.

Prescription medication like painkillers, antidepressants, anxiety meds, and even antihistamines can cause a driver to be impaired, and law enforcement is keen to their effects.

In order to be a savvy and safe driver, here are three things about prescription drugs and DUIs that every motorist should know:

1. No 'Minimum' Level for Prescription-Drug Impairment.

For a driver who imbibes alcohol, there are "per se" laws in every state which mandate that a blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent meets the legal definition of "intoxicated" for drunken driving.

However, in most states, there is no such "minimum" level for those who are driving while impaired on prescription drugs. This means that if you are pulled over under the influence of just one prescription Valium, you can be charged with some form of a DUI.

Note that in places where medicinal and/or recreational marijuana is legal, there may be a minimum limit for THC in your blood (e.g., 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood). But your pot prescription card won't protect you if you're driving stoned.

2. There Are Several Ways to Prove Prescription Drug Use.

Don't think law enforcement can prove you took any prescription drugs? Think again. Drug swabs which test for the presence of certain chemicals in a driver's saliva are currently being used at DUI checkpoints, and they are sensitive enough to detect the presence of prescription drugs like Xanax.

Failing this, a blood test can be performed on you (most likely with a warrant) to detect prescription drugs in your system. And chances are, you'll probably have a pill bottle somewhere on you or in your car that is fair game for search after your arrest.

3. You May Be Able to Fight the Charge.

While there are several ways to beat a DUI charge on a technicality, here are some ways you may be able to fight a DUI involving prescription drug use:

  • You mistakenly took the wrong pill. If you meant to take an Advil but instead took a Zoloft, you may be off the hook.
  • You were involuntarily drugged. Involuntary intoxication is a classic defense to impaired driving. If someone "slipped you a mickey," you may argue that you ingested an impairing prescription drug without your knowledge.

Knowing these facts should help keep you from a prescription DUI arrest, but the best way to evaluate your impaired driving case is to speak with a DUI attorney.

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