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When you hear the term "DUI," your mind likely jumps to a scenario involving alcohol. However, as a criminal defense attorney here in Virginia, I've witnessed first-hand that the presence of prescription drugs in your system can also land you with the same charges as someone who has exceeded the state's BAC limit. Yes, even if those drugs are legally prescribed to you.

Can You Be Charged with a DUI for Prescription Drug Use?

The answer is unequivocally yes. Virginia law doesn't distinguish between different substances when it comes to impairment—alcohol, prescription medications, over-the-counter drugs, or illegal substances—if they impair your ability to drive safely, you could find yourself facing DUI charges.

Examples of common prescriptions that may cause impairment in some individuals:

  • Antidepressants: Certain types can slow reaction time and impair coordination.
  • Opioids: Medications like hydrocodone and oxycodone are known to cause drowsiness and impair cognitive functions.
  • Benzodiazepines: Drugs such as Xanax and Valium are prescribed for anxiety and can cause dizziness and lethargy.
  • Antihistamines: Often used for allergies, some of these medications can induce sleepiness.

The Importance of Understanding Your Prescriptions

Understanding the side effects of any medication you're taking is essential. Many people assume that because a drug is legally prescribed, it is okay to drive while taking it. Unfortunately, many don't appreciate that common prescription medications may have serious side effects or may significantly enhance the effects of alcohol, leading to unexpected impairment.

Drowsiness, dizziness, and blurred vision are common side effects that can dangerously affect your driving abilities.

Remember, it's not about whether the drug is legal or whether you have the right to consume it; it's about how it affects your driving. Even if no alcohol or illegal drugs are found in your system, if your prescription drug use impairs your ability to operate a vehicle safely, you can get a DUI.

Remember: Law Enforcement Is Looking for Signs of Impairment

Virginia law enforcement officers are specifically trained to spot impairment. If an officer stops you and suspects you're under the influence of prescription drugs, be aware that you could be subjected to the same field sobriety tests (FSTs) used to identify alcohol-related impairment. Furthermore, a law enforcement officer can make a DUI arrest even without performing a breathalyzer or field sobriety testing.

The DUI Arrest Process & Field Sobriety Tests (FSTs)

If you're stopped by law enforcement and they suspect that you may be under the influence of drugs, you may be asked to perform field sobriety tests. These tests, designed to assess impairment, can include examining your balance, coordination, and ability to follow instructions.

Tips for how to handle a DUI stop:

  • Stay calm and respectful: It's natural to feel anxious, but staying composed is vital. Follow all officer-provided instructions and do not flee or resist arrest.
  • Exercise your right to remain silent: Beyond providing your identification, you are not obligated to answer further questions without an attorney present, and you may politely decline to perform field sobriety tests.
  • Contact a qualified attorney: If arrested, seek legal advice immediately. An experienced criminal defense attorney like me can guide you on how to proceed.

Being charged with a DUI for prescription drug use may seem daunting and confusing. You might feel unjustly accused for merely following a doctor's orders. If you are in this situation, you are not alone. Reach out to my firm, Andrew J. Cornick, Attorney at Law, to schedule a consultation and discuss your options.