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Prescription drugs and DUI

When you think of DUI charges, you may assume that the driver was drinking heavily or using illegal drugs. However, even people who would never engage in this type of behavior can find themselves facing criminal charges of Driving Under the Influence or Driving While Ability Impaired.

Even perfectly legal, duly prescribed medications can affect your ability to drive safely. Therefore, you can do everything correctly and still end up accused of a DUI or DWAI. In Colorado, DUI is the more serious charge that applies when a driver is substantially impaired by a substance; DWAI is a lesser charge brought when the impairment is slight.

Medications and side effects

Both prescription and over-the-counter medications can produce side effects that influence your driving ability. Common effects include dizziness, blurred vision, nausea, fatigue, slowed reflexes, impaired physical coordination, lightheadedness and mental confusion.

Some types of drugs are more likely to have strong effects. These include sleeping medications such as Ambien, some benzodiazepines (often prescribed for seizures or anxiety) and prescription painkillers. However, even over-the-counter drugs such as cold medicine can seriously impair your ability to successfully control your vehicle.

Safe practices

While your doctor should review potential effects with you, it is important to be aware that some people have atypical reactions. You may find that the drug does not affect you at all, affects you more than is typical or that the effects last longer than predicted. It is best not to get behind the wheel when you are just beginning to take a new prescription until you know how it affects you.

What happens if you get pulled over

When an officer pulls you over on suspicion of DUI, you can expect to take a blood or breath test. Refusing the test is likely to get your license suspended immediately. Officers may also ask you to take a field sobriety test, which gauges some basic mental and physical functions. People with health conditions, however, may fail this test due to factors other than impairment. Do always be polite and cooperative. On the other hand, remember that volunteering information rarely helps your case. Do not say more than necessary.

If you or a loved one faces DUI or DWAI charges based on prescription drug use, speak with a qualified attorney as soon as possible. Prescription DUIs in particular can involve complex questions about your medication's effects, dosage levels, interactions and more. The consequences of a conviction can be serious and may include jail time, fines, probation and license suspension, depending on the level of severity. An experienced defense attorney can develop an effective strategy based on the facts of your case.

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