Prescription Drugs and DUI: What You Need to Know

A bottle of prescription drugs is spilling a variety of pills out onto the white surface with a set of car keys beside it.

When most people get a new prescription from the doctor, the first thing they think about isn’t how this will affect their ability to drive. But for some prescriptions, it should be. Georgia police are on the lookout for people on prescription drugs behind the wheel, and that can turn a speeding ticket into a much bigger problem. Find out what you need to know about prescription drugs and DUI, and what to ask your doctor before you get behind the wheel.

In this blog post I will review Georgia’s drugged driving laws with a particular focus on prescription drugs. I will explain the criminal penalties connected with charges of driving under the influence of prescription drugs, and I will discuss how some drugs may affect your ability to drive when you don’t even know it.

Georgia Drugged Driving Laws Include Prescription Drugs and DUI

Most people don’t realize that Georgia’s driving under the influence laws (DUI) apply to more than just alcohol. The laws prevent drunk and drugged driving, including when there are prescription drugs involved. Under state law, it is illegal to drive any time:

  • Your blood alcohol content is 0.08% or higher (0.04% for commercial drivers and 0.02% for people under age 21)
  • You have consumed enough alcohol that it makes you less safe to drive
  • You have taken any drug (prescribed or otherwise) or intoxicating substance that makes it less safe to drive
  • You have a combination of drugs and alcohol in your system that makes you less safe to drive

That means any time you are behind the wheel, you need to be aware of the effect of intoxicating substances in your body -- whether they are supposed to be there or not.

The penalties for drugged driving are the same as drunk driving. Georgia DUI laws include mandatory jail time, even on the first offense. Depending on your history, and your circumstances, a DUI conviction can also bring with it:

  • Probation
  • Fees and costs
  • Community service
  • License restrictions
  • Alcohol and drug evaluation
  • DUI risk reduction course (DUI school)

Georgia Police Are Asking About Prescription Drugs

When you get pulled over for speeding or are in a minor fender-bender, you may be surprised to hear the police officer ask if you’ve taken any medications recently. It seems this is becoming a routine part of traffic stops. And usually, the answer is yes.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, nearly 50% of all Americans take at least one prescription drug. Over 23% take 3 or more prescriptions. Not every drug affects your ability to drive, and not every person is affected by a medication the same way. Many prescriptions warn about an adjustment period, but once your body adjusts, they don’t affect your day-to-day driving habits. Still, when police hear that you have taken any one of a list of drugs that may affect your ability to drive, it can start a cascade of events that end in DUI charges.

Could You Face DUI Charges for Following Doctors’ Orders?

Even when people know that drugged driving is illegal in Georgia, they often assume there must be an exception when they are following doctors’ orders. They think they will be okay as long as they have a valid prescription for the drugs they are taking. Georgia DUI law is not that forgiving. Even when patients are following doctors’ orders to the letter, they can still face DUI charges if their prescription drugs make them less safe to drive.

The other thing many people don’t realize is that even if they are following their prescription, their other activities could be making them a danger on the roads. Many prescriptions have drug interactions that can affect your reflexes, coordination, or general ability to drive. They may also make the effects of alcohol on your system more pronounced, so that you are considered drunk even before your blood alcohol reaches 0.08%.

What to Ask Your Doctor Before Taking a New Prescription

With the promise of jail time on even a first-time DUI conviction, it is vitally important that you know the possible side-effects of all your medications before you take the first dose. Whenever your doctor starts you on a new course of treatment, be sure to talk to him or her about whether it is safe to drive. Ask your doctor whether your new prescription drug will:

  • Slow your reflexes
  • Affect your cognitive or decision-making ability
  • Impair coordination or balance
  • Cause drowsiness
  • Affect your vision
  • Heighten anxiety or affect your mood
  • Make it easier to get drunk

You will also want to closely monitor all your medications, and watch out for interactions between drugs. Make sure your doctor knows everything you are taking (even over-the-counter medications or supplements), so that he or she can properly advise you of the risks.

What to Do if You are Facing Prescription Drug DUI Charges

All too often, Georgia drivers have no idea there could even be a problem until they are already facing prescription drug DUI charges. But even if you have been charged, there is still hope. Many times, the police who testify in a prescription drug DUI trial can’t say what effect the drug had on your ability to drive. In most cases, police are using the same sobriety tests for prescription drugs as alcohol. Sometimes, your underlying condition can cause the same cues in these tests as intoxication, even when you would have no trouble driving.

But the courts haven’t approved the use of field sobriety tests to support a prescription drug DUI charge. When the prosecutors are relying on the wrong tests, an experienced criminal defense attorney can use that to help you defend against the charges and sometimes even get your case dismissed.

If you are facing prescription-based drugged driving charges, you need an experienced attorney on your team to help you raise defenses and defend your case. Lance McCoy of The McCoy Law Firm, LLC, is a criminal and DUI defense attorney with 25 years of experience. From his family-owned law firm in Cartersville, Georgia, he represents defendants facing prescription drug DUI charges throughout northwest Georgia. If you are facing Georgia DUI charges, please contact Criminal & DUI Law of Georgia so we can begin working on your case right away.

Categories: DUI

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