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Prescription Drugs and DUI in North Carolina

Drivers in North Carolina can be subject to DUI charges if driving while impaired by prescription drugs.  In recent years, abuse of prescription drugs has become a growing issue across the United States.  As legislatures and law enforcement agencies began to recognize the growing problem, laws were enacted to combat the problem and officers began to receive training on recognizing prescription drug abuse.  This raises some important questions regarding the use of prescription drugs, especially for those who are prescribed the drugs and take them in appropriate dosages.

Though most impaired driving charges relating to prescription drugs occur when a driver is clearly under the influence of the drug, or taking the drug without a prescription, drivers may be charged with a DUI even when they are taking prescription drugs according to their doctor’s orders.  Though it is often more difficult for officers to recognize impairment by prescription drugs, any circumstances that give the officer a reasonable suspicion of impairment will generally lead to arrest.  At this point, the driver will be taken into custody and be asked to submit to implied consent chemical analysis.  When the officer believes impairment is cause by a substance other than alcohol, the chemical analysis used will be blood or urine testing.  These tests often reveal the presence of prescription medication.

Some medications specifically warn that individuals should not drive or “operate heavy machinery” (yes, this generally includes vehicles) while taking the medication.  These types of warnings may be used in a DUI trial as evidence of impairment.  Any person that drives while taking a prescription medication should carefully read the instructions or speak to their doctor about the possible side effects of the drug.

If a driver is charged with a DUI due to the use of prescription medication which is lawfully obtained and taken according to doctor’s orders, it may be possible to prove that the medication could not have been the source of impairment.  An experienced attorney will attempt to prove at trial that the drug was taken in a “therapeutic dosage” and that taken at this dosage the drug is not impairing.  The attorney may also call a medical expert to testify that taken in the correct amount, the drug would not lead to impairment of the driver.


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