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Intoxicating prescription drugs can lead to DUIs

On Behalf of | Jan 2, 2024 | Criminal Defense

In Rhode Island, the criminal charge of driving under the influence (DUI) can refer to either a driver who’s under the intoxicating effects of either alcohol or an illicit substance. But did you know that the law also applies to medication with similar inebriating effects?

Yes, prescription drugs that have stimulating effects can trigger a DUI, especially if they begin to impair your ability to drive.

Driving under the influence of medication

Per state law, anyone who drives while under the influence of any intoxicating liquor, controlled substance, or drugs – or a combination of any of them – commits a DUI violation. The term “drugs” covers illicit drugs, over-the-counter medication and prescription medicine.

Unlike a DUI for alcohol, wherein the charged driver has to hit a blood alcohol concentration level of at least .08%, a prescription drug DUI won’t have any specified limit. Which means any presence of an intoxicating drug in the driver’s blood through testing can lead to charges.

Which prescription and over-the-counter medicine can lead to DUIs?

The following types of medication will cause an effect similar to being drunk:

  • Antidepressants: Drugs prescribed for depression and anxiety, such as Paxil and Zoloft.
  • Benzodiazepines: Drugs prescribed for insomnia and seizures, such as Ativan and Valium.
  • Muscle relaxants: Drugs prescribed for back pain and other musculoskeletal conditions, such as Robaxin and Soma.
  • Opioids: These controversial pain management drugs, which include OxyContin and Vicodin, are also dangerously habit-forming.

Generally speaking, any medication that can impair your ability to drive can lead to DUI charges.

The penalties for prescription DUI

A conviction for a DUI involving prescription drugs leads to the same penalties as those for a regular DUI. For a first offense, the convicted driver faces up to a year in jail and $800 in fines. In addition, the state’s Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) can suspend their license for up to 18 months.

Even if a prescription or over-the-counter drug is legal to use, its side effects could put you in trouble if you attempt to drive. If you face charges for driving while under the effect of medication, strongly consider contacting a legal professional. A lawyer can help protect your rights in court, especially if you truly need the medicine.