Driving Under the Influence and Prescription Drugs

Many people in Pennsylvania are surprised to learn that they can be charged with DUI offenses for driving while they are impaired by prescription medications. People can be arrested and convicted of a DUI offense when they drive after taking certain prescription drugs. Even if you are taking legal medications that have been prescribed to you, you can be arrested for driving under the influence of drugs if your driving is affected. If you are facing a driving under the influence of drugs charge, DiCindio Law is available to help.

What are the elements of a DUI charge?

To be convicted of a charge of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, the prosecutor must prove each of the following elements:

  • The defendant drove, operated, or had actual physical control of a vehicle.
  • The defendant’s ability to drive was impaired by alcohol or drugs.

Impairment means that a driver’s ability to drive was impacted enough to prevent him or her from driving safely. People can be charged with driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. They can also be charged when they are impaired by a combination of alcohol and drugs.

Driving under the influence of legal drugs

Some drugs that are prescribed by doctors or purchased over-the-counter can cause people to be impaired and result in a DUI charge. People should read the warning labels of the drugs that they are prescribed or that they purchase over-the-counter to understand whether they might cause impairment.

Some common types of over-the-counter and prescription drugs that can cause impairment include the following:

  • Antidepressants with a sedating effect
  • Valium and other anti-anxiety drugs
  • Antihistamines such as Benadryl
  • Decongestants
  • Sleeping pills
  • Hydrocodone, oxycodone, and other opioid drugs

Many medications can affect people’s motor skills, cognitive functioning, and coordination. Some of the types of side effects that can impair your driving ability include the following:

  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Blurred vision
  • Nausea
  • Slowed movement and reaction times
  • Trouble focusing or paying attention
  • Fainting

People are affected by prescription and over-the-counter drugs in different ways. Medications that impair people’s judgment, concentration, motor skills, or alertness are just as dangerous to take before driving as alcohol.

In addition to prescription medications, some herbal supplements can also impact your ability to drive safely. For example, kombucha tea and some herbal supplements can impair your driving ability. If you drink kombucha tea, it can cause you to register a BAC reading on a breathalyzer test because it contains a small amount of alcohol.

Penalties for driving under the influence of prescription drugs

In Pennsylvania, people who are convicted of driving under the influence of drugs are prosecuted at the highest DUI tier. Unlike alcohol, there is not a set limit that is established for different levels of impairment. For a first DUI involving drugs, you can face from three days up to six months in jail, a fine from $1,000 to $5,000, a one-year license suspension, possible court-mandated treatment, and attendance at an alcohol highway safety program. The penalties are substantially worse for second or subsequent offenses.

Defenses to a DUI-D charge

When you meet with your attorney, he or she will evaluate your case to identify the defenses that might be raised. The defenses will depend on the facts and circumstances of your case. For example, your attorney might challenge your stop if the officer did not have reasonable suspicion to pull you over. He or she might review any field sobriety tests that you performed to check to see if they were properly administered by the officer. In some cases, people who are charged with driving under the influence of prescription drugs may be able to argue that they were not impaired.

If an officer did not have reasonable suspicion to stop you, your attorney might be able to get all of the evidence against you suppressed at a motion hearing. This could result in the dismissal of the charges against you. If the officer arrested you without sufficient probable cause, your arrest and subsequent evidence that was obtained might be suppressed. When evidence is suppressed, it means that the prosecutor cannot use it against you at trial. This makes the state’s case weaker and can result in a dismissal or a plea offer to reduced charges or non-DUI offenses.

Get help from DiCindio Law

If you have been charged with driving under the influence of prescription or over-the-counter drugs, you should talk to an attorney as soon as possible. Michael DiCindio at DiCindio Law is experienced with handling DUI cases involving legal and illegal drugs. Contact us today to schedule a consultation by filling out our contact form or calling us at 610.430.3535.