Drug-Related DUIs Attributed to Prescription Medications
Interviewer: I wanted to go back to DUIs that involved prescription medications. What typically happens?
A Common Scenario of a Prescription Medication DUI: Drivers Taking a Number of Prescriptions May Be Unaware of the Different Drugs’ Interactions
Jerry Novak: I actually just represented a gentleman on a case like that. He was only in his fifties, but, unfortunately, he had a number of medical conditions that did require him to have a number of different prescription medications. He also had a number of different doctors. Unfortunately, the doctors never got together and discussed all these medications that my client had been prescribed, and didn’t consider the drug interaction effect.
Adding a New Prescription to a Medication Regimen Can Result in Side Effects or Interactions That Leads to Poor Driving Skills
He had recently been diagnosed with a new problem and was prescribed this new medication. When he added in this new medication to his regimen, it caused him to feel uncomfortable or not his usual self.
One day he was driving down the street. He was feeling especially uncomfortable, and he decided that he wasn’t feeling uncomfortable enough to go to the emergency room, but he was in the vicinity of his doctor’s office, so he decided to drive right over to his doctor’s office.
He was stopped by a police officer for weaving within his own lane. The police officer pulled him over, activated his emergency lights, exited his vehicle, and walked up to my client’s car.
My client put the window down. He said hello. It was the middle of the afternoon. He said, “What’s going on?” He said, “I’m just not feeling really well.” He said, “Have you had anything to drink?” He said, “No.” He said, “Have you taken any drugs?”
He says, “Well, I haven’t taken any illegal drugs.” He says, “Well, what legal drugs have you taken?” He says, “Well, I’ve got this malady, and that malady, and this illness, and that illness. As a matter of fact, I wasn’t feeling too good, and I was on my way to the doctor’s office to ask him about this latest medication he prescribed.” He literally pulled out the pill bottle, and shows it to the police officer.
The police officer then says, “You know what, sir, I want to make sure you’re safe to drive. I’d like you to get out of the car, and take some tests.” Well, we all now know where this is going.
He wasn’t physically fit, and he didn’t have the body of Arnold Schwarzenegger. He was a little bit overweight. He was a little bit uncoordinated. He wasn’t feeling well. We know that from the get go, and he had a number of different medications in his system.
Will a Valid, Medically Authorized Prescription Shield You from Receiving a DUI?
Of course, the police officer indicated on his report that my client failed the tests miserably. And he arrested him for DUI.
The Law Does Not Distinguish between Impairment Due to Illegal or Legal Drugs
The whole time, my client claims, “But I’m legally entitled to take these medications. These are prescription medications. I’m not some kid who goes out and gets high.” Well, unfortunately, the law doesn’t make any distinction for that.
Luckily, when he got to the police station, he declined any further testing, so he did not participate in a breath, blood or urine test. Even though he admitted to the consumption of these drugs, his maladies or illnesses would bear out his lack of coordination, and his size and weight, also, bore out his lack of coordination.
The state was unable to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that my client’s poor performance was due to the consumption of medication. The court agreed with our theory that his poor performance was the result of his age and his medical condition.
While it’s a fine line, it’s a line we were able to walk, and the judge said, “I agree with you. The state has not proven beyond a reasonable doubt that it was the medication versus the fact that he’s older, he’s in bad shape, and he has these medical problems,” and he was ultimately found not guilty.