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Could taking prescription drugs lead to a DWI charge?

According to Georgetown University, roughly 131 million people in the United States take prescription drugs for various reasons, whether long-term for chronic pain, high blood pressure, generalized anxiety disorder or short-term as they recover from a serious injury.

Regardless of the reason, that is a significant percentage of the adult population. It is incredibly common to take prescription drugs. However, even with medical authorization to take these medications, there are some cases when taking prescription drugs could put individuals at risk of a DWI.

Prescription drug side effects can lead to impairment

It is true that prescription drugs can impair individuals. After all, prescriptions usually come with side effect warnings. The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) states that several prescription drugs could directly affect one’s ability to drive, including, but not limited to:

  • Certain antidepressants;
  • Drugs for anxiety;
  • Anti-seizure medications;
  • Some allergy medications; and
  • Opioid pain relief medications.

It is important to note that the same prescription drug can often impact individuals differently. Some people might not experience any side effects, while others experience severe ones. Common side effects of these medications that could impact one’s ability to drive often include:

  • Slowed reactions or movements;
  • Dizziness or drowsiness;
  • Difficulty concentrating; and
  • Blurry vision.

These side effects are also common signs of alcohol impairment. Even so, the question remains: can impairment from prescription drugs lead to a DWI?

Yes, even prescription drugs could lead to a DWI – in some cases

Under North Carolina’s DWI laws, individuals could face DWI charges if they drive while impaired by prescription drugs. This is because, under these rules, the police and prosecution look at how a substance affects the driver and their ability to drive.

If the police observe signs of impairment, such as a driver drifting in and out of their lane, they could pull them over and test if they are impaired. The police might be able to charge individuals impaired by prescription drugs, but proving it is often more difficult.

There are several breath and blood tests designed to detect alcohol, but it is difficult to test the effects of a prescription drug outside of observation. Therefore, even if individuals face charges, it is often a challenge to convict them.

Individuals who take prescription drugs should not worry too much about the risk of a DWI. These cases are not too common. However, they should be consciously aware of the potential side effects of their medication when they get behind the wheel.