Can I Get a DWI for Using Prescription Drugs?

  • DWI

While the laws around it might be complicated, pretty much everyone understands that it is illegal to drive while drunk. But it becomes more confusing when you replace alcohol with prescription medication. After all, your medication was prescribed to you by a doctor because of your very real medical issues and it is therefore much more than just a way to get intoxicated.

But even those who are using their medication exactly as prescribed can run into issues when it comes to being pulled over. Driving while intoxicated doesn’t necessarily just mean driving while under the influence of alcohol. The law is less concerned with the source of the intoxication and more concerned with the intoxication itself. Let’s see why that is.

Why is it Dangerous to Take Prescription Medication and Drive?

Prescription medications can have many side effects. While some of these are just uncomfortable, such as feeling bloated or having a dry mouth, other side effects can be downright deadly when combined with a vehicle.

The clearest example that comes to most people’s minds is sleep medication or pain medications. These prescription medications may be necessary for you but they both make you drowsy and reduce your level of alertness. It only takes a couple of seconds for a car to veer off the road as your eyes start to flutter closed.

But it isn’t just sleep and pain medications that can cause issues. Even a medication like a stimulant can cause issues with driving. These medications may keep you awake and alert but they can mess with your ability to judge distances and people are even more likely to take risks while on a stimulant medication than they would be otherwise.

Before you get behind the wheel of a vehicle, first make sure that you have read and understand the side effects of your prescriptions. Remember, too, that prescriptions interact with each other and so you might have side effects from combining prescriptions that you wouldn’t have otherwise. Never get in the driver’s seat if it is your first time taking a particular medication, as you can’t judge how it will affect you. This is important when you consider that New Jersey is a zero tolerance state.

What Does Zero Tolerance Mean When it Comes to Driving?

There are two types of laws when it comes to driving while intoxicated. These change from state to state but in New Jersey we use what are often called zero tolerance laws. The two types of laws are:

  • Incapable: Some states take an approach in which it hinges on whether or not the driver is capable of driving or not. If they are capable of driving then it wouldn’t matter whether or not they had a prescription medication in their system. However, if they were found to be incapable then they would be under the influence.
  • Zero Tolerance: In a zero tolerance state, the concept of capability doesn’t really matter. These are “per se” states in which having any amount of a controlled or illegal substance in your system qualifies you as impaired. You might be perfectly capable of driving your vehicle without incident while on your medication but if it was a controlled medication then the very act of taking it means that you are legally impaired, even if you feel fine.

Zero tolerance laws are restrictive but they exist in order to make the roads a safer place for all. However, it can be hard to both take your medication to stay healthy while also avoiding the road. There are some ways you can reduce the risks of driving if you’ve been prescribed medication.

How Can I Reduce the Risks Associated with Driving and Prescription Medication Use?

The best way to avoid getting a DWI because of prescription drug use is to not take the medication before heading out on the road.

  • Be Aware of Your Body: The best way to avoid the dangerous situations that occur when prescription medication and driving mix is to understand your body and to be aware of how it reacts to the medication. This goes beyond just the medication itself and includes things like how the medication interacts with the cup of coffee you were drinking just before leaving for work.
  • NEVER Drive on the First Dose: Even if you have taken a similar medication to the one you have just been prescribed, you should NEVER assume that they will work the same way with your body. Two different pain medications could have vastly different effects and so you should always expect to stay in or have someone else drive for you when starting a new medication.
  • Talk to Your Doctor: Try to keep the same doctor and the same pharmacy so that your medical professionals know you and understand how your body reacts to medications. Let your doctor know all of the medications and supplements you are on, as well as any over the counter medications you may be taking. This information will help your doctor to brief you on the side effects of not only the medication they are prescribing but how it could interact with other substances in your body.
  • Try Changing Medication Times: See if you can take your medications before bed or if you can move them to the middle of the morning after you get to the office. Most medications will be strongest in the few hours after they are first taken, so if you can it is best to move when you take them to fit a section of your schedule when you won’t have to get behind the wheel.

What Should I Do If I Got a DWI for Using Prescription Drugs?

If you’ve gotten a DWI for using prescription drugs then you’re going to want to find an attorney that has experience in defending cases like yours.

The Hernandez Law Firm, PC, is just the place for cases like yours. Give us a call at (732) 582-5076 to see how we can help you with your DWI defense.

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Steven W. Hernandez, Board-Certified DUI Attorney