DUI & Prescription Drugs: Is It Really Illegal?

When most people think of DUI (driving under the influence), they think of alcohol. They may also think of illegal drugs like cocaine, heroin, or meth, but chances are that they don’t think of prescription drugs.

In Florida, you can be arrested and charged with DUI if you’re accused of driving under the influence of prescription drugs—even those that have been lawfully prescribed to you.

If you look at Florida Statutes §316.193, you’ll see that a person can face DUI charges if he or she “is driving or in actual physical control of a vehicle” and has a blood- or breath-alcohol level of .08% or greater. This is what most people consider when they think of DUI: taking a breath or blood test and getting arrested because their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is above the legal limit.

However, a driver may face DUI charges even if he or she does not have a BAC of .08% or greater, as long as his or her “normal faculties are impaired” by:

  • Any alcoholic beverage (beer, wine, hard alcohol, etc.)
  • Any chemical substance listed in Florida Statutes § 877.111 (nitrous oxide, acetone, hexane, etc.)
  • Any controlled substance listed in Florida Statutes § 893.03 (heroin, cocaine, fentanyl, codeine, oxycodone, morphine, cannabis, etc.)

Prescription Drugs Are Controlled Substances

Prescription drugs are included in § 893.03 because they are controlled substances. The government puts restrictions on their use because of their potential for abuse and their danger if taken without direction or limitation. This means that you can face DUI charges if you’re found to be driving while your abilities are impaired by a prescription drug.

Even if what's in your system is Adderall, Ambien, Morphine, Valium, Xanax, or some other legally prescribed medication, you can still be arrested on drug DUI charges. This can further entail that your blood alcohol content won't be .08 or higher on a breath or blood alcohol test, so only more subjective observations, such as field sobriety tests, could be used as an indication of impairment.

It will be up to the arresting officer to try to gather enough evidence that proves your normal abilities were impaired as a result of the medication. This may include:

  • The officer’s observations about your driving, such as swerving, running a red light, speeding, etc. and your behavior after you’re pulled over, such as slurred speech, inability to focus, or other mannerisms that could indicate impairment.
  • Your performance on field sobriety tests, such as the walk-and-turn and the one-leg stand, which are meant to gauge balance, coordination, judgment, and your ability to follow directions.
  • If a breath test shows you do not have an illegal level of alcohol in your breath, and yet the officer still believes your abilities are impaired, he or she may utilize drug recognition evaluators to test for suspected drug use. This may include testing blood pressure, pupil dilation, pulse, and looking for physical indications of drug use like injection sites.

The Penalties for a Prescription Drug DUI Conviction in Florida

The potential penalties that someone charged with a prescription drug DUI could face are the same potential penalties for any other type of drunk or drugged driving charge. This means that for abiding by the directions of a lawfully prescribed medicine, you could be looking at the same sentencing as someone who recklessly took to the road after drinking too much.

These prescription drug DUI penalties can include:

  • Up to 6 months in jail, a $1,000 fine, and 1 year of license revocation for a 1st ever DUI
  • Up to 9 months in jail, a $2,000 fine, and 1 year of license revocation for a 2nd DUI
  • Up to 12 months in jail, a $5,000 fine, and 1 year of license revocation for a 3rd DUI

Furthermore, if you have any prior DUI convictions on your record before a prescription drug DUI charge, then a conviction could mean that an ignition interlock device would have to be installed in your vehicle for two years.

Fighting Prescription Drug DUI Charges in Tampa

Your doctor may have prescribed codeine, oxycodone, diazepam, marijuana, or hydrocodone for a very real medical condition you’re experiencing. You may have then taken this medication as directed, only to find yourself under arrest for suspected DUI. This is not the end of the road for your license and your freedom—you have the right to challenge these charges.

Possible defenses for your drugged driving charge could include:

  • A surprise side effect/reaction from the medication
  • Inadequate proof of impairment
  • An improper traffic stop or arrest procedure
  • Inadequate warning labels on the medication
  • Testing was incorrectly administered
  • Other causes of impairment, such as sleep deprivation, sickness, or other natural causes

At Thomas & Paulk, we fight for drivers throughout Tampa and across Florida in the face of DUI charges in criminal court and administrative license suspension proceedings with the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV). We handle every part of your case so you don’t have to, and we have extensive experience with DUI charges of all kinds, including those involving prescription drugs.

Our DUI lawyers know how to challenge an officer’s testimony, how to expose the weaknesses in field sobriety tests, and how to expose constitutional rights violations that could turn an entire case around in our client’s favor. We’ve helped thousands of people fight their criminal charges—and win.

To find out how we can help with your DUI charges, give us a call at (813) 221-4200.

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