Can I get a DUI for prescription drugs?

When people think of driving under the influence (DUI), the first thing that often comes to mind is drinking and driving. However, driving under the influence can also include drugs, including those that are legal and prescribed. However, the legality surrounding prescription drug DUIs is rather ambiguous & subjective.

Nebraska DUI Law

According to Nebraska DUI law, it is unlawful for any person to operate or be in the actual control of any motor vehicle while under the influence of alcoholic liquor or any drug. Having a valid prescription is not a legal defense to a DUI charge. This may seem rather black and white, but the interpretation of such law is far from it.

There are many drugs that—when taken as prescribed—can cause you to be impaired. Narcotic pain pills such as OxyContin, tranquilizers like Vicodin, sleep medication such as Ambien and Seroquel, anti-anxiety medications like Xanax, antidepressants, cough medicines such as Nyquil, and many other medications can impair your ability to operate a vehicle. However, many of these drugs stay in your system long past the point of impairment.

If you are on prescription medication when the police stop you and are suspected of being under the influence of any type of substance, most of the time they will being by investigating you for an alcohol DUI by performing field sobriety tests and having you take a breathalyzer test. If you pass the breathalyzer test, they will most likely investigate other possible substances and contact a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) to conduct a battery of tests to try to determine what type of medications or other drugs you may be on. The last step will either be submitting a chemical test being either a blood or urine sample.

Impairment Judgement

Ultimately the impairment of the driver is often left to the discretion of the officer or the DRE (if called to the scene). This subjectivity arises from the lack of a solid “level” of impairment established for drugged driving. For instance; the legal limit for BAC when driving is .08. No defined “level” such as this exists for drugged DUIs. This leaves defending prescription drug DUIs to be a daunting task, but not an impossible one. A chemical test issued at the time of the arrest can provide some feedback on level of impairment but ultimately indicators such as the ones listed above, and negligent or reckless driving observed by the officer will usually be the deciding factor of impairment.

Even with a chemical test, it is difficult to determine impairment at the time of the stop. If a person had taken a Vicodin the day prior, but the chemicals were still in their system, they will show up on the chemical test. This can be used against them in court even though the drug most likely wasn’t affecting them in any way at the time of the stop.

Additionally, even if a DRE is called in and they determine one is under the influence, there’s a litany of factors that can contribute to this decision even though they may not have contributed to one’s negligent driving. These factors include; high pulse rate, anxiety, sweating, blood pressure, and body temperature. All of which are noted by the DRE and all of which can be affected by the mere presence of law enforcement, even in innocent parties.

As you can tell, defending prescription drug DUIs can be a sticky situation with a multitude of factors involved. If you have been arrested for a DUI in Nebraska, contact Berry Law and request a consultation with one of our experienced Lincoln criminal defense attorneys today.

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