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Can You Get a DUI after Taking Medicine?

On behalf of Randall & Stump, PLLC in Blog, DUI/DWI on Thursday, March 23, 2023

Doctor prescribing pills

You may think DUI charges only apply to drinking and driving. However, you could be charged with a DUI and face criminal penalties if you drive under the influence of medication, even if you have a prescription.

Understanding the hidden risks these drugs pose can help you avoid being charged with driving while impaired by drugs (DWI) in North Carolina. If you find yourself facing trouble, however, you will likely need the services of an experienced Charlotte DWI lawyer to fight the charges against you.

Driving While Impaired (DWI) Laws in North Carolina

Impaired driving laws in North Carolina define two categories of offense: driving under the influence of an impairing substance and driving after taking a controlled substance.

Driving Under the Influence of an Impairing Substance

A driver is considered under the influence if their faculties are considerably impaired. Officers may use field sobriety tests and look for signs of impairment, such as slurred speech or glassy eyes, before making an arrest.

At trial, prosecutors can use evidence such as the officer’s testimony, body camera footage, and blood or urine test results to prove impairment.

Controlled Substance DWI

Drivers can also face DWI penalties for having any amount of metabolized Schedule I controlled substance in their blood or urine. This includes substances such as marijuana, cocaine, and heroin, but also prescription drugs such as opiate pain relievers and sleeping pills.

Common Drugs Can Cause Impairment

While many medications are safe to use if you’re planning to drive, some can have side effects and impact your ability to operate a vehicle properly. For example, medication can cause sleepiness, reduced reaction time, blurred vision, nausea, or affect your ability to focus or pay attention to the road.

Numerous drugs can potentially induce a condition of impairment on the road. These include many strong pain medications and drugs that treat insomnia, ADHD, anxiety, and more. Some medicines that could make it dangerous to drive include:

  • Opioid pain relievers
  • Sleeping pills
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Antipsychotics
  • Some antidepressants
  • Stimulants such as ephedrine

Don’t assume that taking non-prescription medicines is safer; even over-the-counter (OTC) products can have side effects that can impair driving. For example, allergy medications with antihistamines can make you tired, as can products containing codeine, such as cough syrup and other cold remedies.

Reducing Your Risk of Driving While Impaired in NC

Older drivers are particularly at risk for accidental impairment due to medication. Their bodies may not metabolize medicine as quickly as they should, and cognitive impairment could lead them to take too much or mix up doses.

If you have a prescription for your medication, read the label carefully for any mention of avoiding the operation of heavy machinery. You can also talk to your doctor about adjusting your dose or changing what time you take the medicine to minimize the risk of side effects that could impair your driving.

What Are the Penalties for Driving While Impaired by Drugs?

North Carolina law doesn’t distinguish between legitimate prescription drugs and illegal drugs in terms of their ability to impair a driver. You could face the same penalties for being impaired by drugs as you would for being drunk.

North Carolina’s DWI penalties can be steep, especially if you have had previous DWI charges. You could face jail time, fines, license suspension, and be ordered to complete drug and alcohol education courses.

Even if you had a prescription for the medication you took, this fact is not a valid defense against the charges. However, having a prescription can be considered by the court in sentencing.

Facing DWI Charges for Taking Legal Medicine? Call Randall & Stump 

Even if you thought you were fine to drive after taking medicine, side effects can come on quickly and land you in legal trouble. If you face DWI charges for taking OTC or prescription medicine, you need the help of a criminal defense attorney who can protect your rights and fight to clear your name.

Call Randall & Stump Criminal Defense Attorneys at (980) 237-4579 or reach out online for a free consultation if you are arrested on driving while impaired by drugs charges. Our attorneys have years of experience defending against DWI charges and are ready to take your case.