Prescription Medication and DUI’S

By R. Jake Johnson

Most people are aware it is illegal to drive under the influence of alcohol or illegal narcotics, but many are under the mistaken belief that if they are taking a prescription medication they cannot be arrested for DUI. While there is nothing illegal or wrong with possessing or taking prescribed medication, the side effects of medication can be problematic and can affect drivers in many ways. Some substances such as alcohol and opioids are depressants which lead to slow reactions times and drowsiness, while stimulants such as cocaine and methamphetamines increase the likelihood of aggressive and erratic driving. Other medications can cause dizziness, blurred vision, or decreased coordination. Marijuana, while legal in Colorado, is not exempt from the law when it comes to impaired driving. No matter what the effect, anything that interferes with your ability to concentrate on the road and safely operate a motor vehicle can lead to a charge of Driving Under the Influence of Drugs (DUID). Colorado law does not distinguish DUI related to alcohol and illegal narcotics from DUI related to prescription drugs.

DUI drug cases are not as straight forward as DUI alcohol cases because there is no hard “limit” of a drug which leads to a DUI charge, whereas a blood alcohol content of .05/.08 will lead to DWAI/DUI charges respectively. The practical effect of this difference is that the police often cannot rely solely on the amount of a drug in a person’s system and must rely on other evidence such as driving, speech, and balance to prove their case. Given this difference in test limits it is not uncommon for police and prosecutors to exaggerate or misstate the facts of a DUID case in an effort to obtain a conviction.

The best practice for anyone taking prescription medications would be not to drive a vehicle until the side effects of the medication are known, and certainly do not mix the medication with alcohol. Even a first DUI offense can lead to up to a 1 year Driver’s License loss and up to one year in jail.


From the March 2018 Pollart Miller Newsletter