Driving while on certain medications could lead to a Tennessee DUI

Impaired driving is not only an issue of driving under the influence of alcohol. Driving while on certain prescription medications or a combination of medications and alcohol could also lead to a Tennessee DUI charge.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Science Administration - a federal agency tasked with reducing the impact of substance abuse in American communities - found in a 2010 survey that approximately 10 million Americans drive while under the influence of a medication or drug. This underscores the fact that many do not recognize that driving after taking a prescribed medication can be a crime.

In Tennessee, it is a crime to drive or be in physical control of a vehicle while under the influence of any intoxicant. Some of the examples of intoxicant provided in the statute are obvious such as marijuana or a controlled substance. Yet it also includes any substance that affects the nervous system or impairs "the driver's ability to safely operate a motor vehicle."

Common medications that could pose problems

Some medications have side effects that include dizziness, fainting, sleepiness and blurred vision. Over-the-counter medications and illicit drugs may also impair a driver's ability to safely operate his or her vehicle.

Some of the common types of medications that could lead to problems include:

  • Pain medications - those containing opioids such as codeine, oxycodone (i.e. Percocet or Oxycontin), hydrocodone (i.e. Vicodin, Lorcet or Lortab), a fentanyl patch or Fortabs slow the reflexes.
  • Antidepressants and tranquilizers - Trazadone, Xanax and Valium can affect driving ability. A 10 mg dose of Valium may have the same effect as if driving with a blood alcohol level over the legal limit when it comes to level of function.
  • Sleep medications - Benadryl, Ambien or Lunestra by their very nature are dangerous to take before driving as they cause sleepiness.

Trained Drug Recognition Experts officers often assist in stops related to driving under the influence of drugs. Officer training involves differentiating between drug impairment and a medical condition, such as diabetes.

A 12-step evaluation includes traditional field sobriety methods, such as a breath test, as well as nontraditional methods. Some DREs carry blood pressure cuffs and pupilometers to look for physiological "tells." For example, a sign of Vicodin use is constricted pupils.

Value of expert review in defending against these types of DUI charges

While DREs are often accurate, toxicology may later reveal that the level of a drug was not sufficient to support a DUI charge. In addition, if the police did not follow correct procedures during the stop or arrest there could be defenses available.

If charged with a drug-related impaired driving crime, contact an experienced DUI defense attorney to discuss your case. A successful defense may require the assistance of an expert to review toxicology reports. In addition, a lawyer may discover issues that could mean certain evidence is not admissible to support the charges.