This Chicago DUI attorney has posted here and here about DUI’s that do not involve alcohol. Right now, there are large numbers of people driving on prescription medications that are guilty of DUI.
The issue is vexing police officials because, unlike with alcohol, there is no agreement on what level of drugs in the blood impairs driving.
The behavioral effects of prescription medication vary widely, depending not just on the drug but on the person taking it. Some, like anti-anxiety drugs, can dull alertness and slow reaction time; others, like stimulants, can encourage risk-taking and hurt the ability to judge distances. Mixing prescriptions, or taking them with alcohol or illicit drugs, can exacerbate impairment and sharply increase the risk of crashing, researchers say.
“In the past it was cocaine, it was PCP, it was marijuana,” said Chuck Hayes of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. “Now we’re into this prescription drug era that is giving us a whole new challenge.”
The police also struggle with the challenge of prosecuting someone who was taking valid prescriptions.
“How do we balance between people who legitimately need their prescriptions and protecting the public?” said Mark Neil, senior lawyer at the National Traffic Law Center, which works with prosecutors. “It becomes a very delicate balance.”
Some states have made it illegal to drive with any detectable level of prohibited drugs in the blood. But setting any kind of limit for prescription medications is far more complicated, partly because the complex chemistry of drugs makes their effects more difficult to predict than alcohol’s. And determining whether a driver took drugs soon before getting on the road can be tricky, since some linger in the body for days or weeks.
Unable to prove impairment with blood tests, prosecutors in drugged-driving cases rely heavily on the testimony of “drug recognition experts,” law enforcement officers trained to spot signs of impairment in drivers. But there are only about 7,000 such officers nationwide, Mr. Hayes said, not nearly enough to respond to every traffic stop that may involve drugs.
“When they are involved,” he said of the experts, “our chances of convicting people are much higher.”
But persuading a jury to convict someone of impaired driving due to prescription drugs remains difficult except for the most egregious cases, said Douglas F. Gansler, the attorney general in Maryland.
“Because most people on the jury will also likely be taking prescription drugs for some ailment,” Mr. Gansler said, “whether it’s Lipitor or allergy pills or whatever it might be, they might think, ‘I don’t want that to become criminal.’ ”Just remember, if you have a prescription for any medication you should check with your doctor about driving while having that drug in your system. Seriously, you don’t want a DUI for following doctor’s orders do you?