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Prescription Drug DUI

Usually when you hear about a DUI in South Carolina (or anywhere else for that matter) you think of alcohol or perhaps recreational drugs like marijuana. You probably don’t think of a prescription drug…but as it turns out, it is possible to get a DUI charge in The Palmetto State while driving under the influence of Xanax, Oxycodone, or whatever else your doctor ordered. Incidentally, there are even some over the counter medicines that can impair driving and possibly result in a DUI, such as cough medicine.


Generally speaking, it’s safe to drive after taking many medications, but check the bottle first, and ask your doctor. Certain medications that are known to induce side effects are best left off the road, such as drowsiness and disorientation. Opioid painkillers, anxiety meds, antidepressants, allergy medication, sleeping pills, muscle relaxants, and antipsychotic drugs are the usual suspects, but even prescription diuretics, diet pills, and stimulants can result in impaired driving. It all depends on the person, the dosage, and the medication. It’s also important to know that some prescription medications can have lingering side effects into the next day, which might impact your morning commute. This is particularly the case with sleep medications like Ambien, Edluar, and Zolpimist.


A breathalyzer test won’t catch traces of impairing prescription drugs in your system, and they won’t fill your car with a (shall we say) giveaway herbal odor. They will, however, show up in a urine test or blood test, which can be presented to a driver as a requirement for retaining their license. And if a driver refuses to take any of these tests, their license can be revoked. This is because driving in South Carolina is actually on the books as a privilege, not a right, as expressed in our Implied Consent Law. This law basically states that as long as you’re driving around South Carolina, you agree to take a breath, blood, or urine test upon request if you are asked to do so by a law enforcement officer (incidentally, the Implied Consent Law is common to all 50 states).


Remember that it doesn’t matter if the prescription drug that impaired your ability to drive was prescribed by a doctor. Voluntary intoxication is not a valid defense for drugs or alcohol. If an officer suspects that you are impaired while driving, and tests come back showing the presence of a prescription drug in your system, you can be charged with a DUI.


Once charged and if you refused the breathalyzer or blood test, your license will be suspended and you’ll have the opportunity to bring your case before an administrative law judge. Contacting an attorney familiar with drug related DUI cases is a crucial step at this point since they can assist you in presenting a convincing case before the administrative law judge.  Whether your suspension is upheld or rescinded at the administrative hearing, you will still have to fight your pending DUI, which, if found guilty, carries many different penalties. 


The most common among these are the requirement to carry an extra type of insurance called SR-22. Your primary automobile insurance premiums are also likely to go up, and you will likely be required to attend classes in the South Carolina Alcohol and Drug Safety Program (also called the ADSAP).


A DUI lingers on your record for a decade and counts as a previous incident should another one occur, which makes the penalties for that next DUI even steeper. If someone gets a DUI a second or third time, the previous DUIs compound the severity of the penalties for the most recent violation. Moreover, having a DUI on your record can sometimes make it difficult to find employment, attend a college of your choice, or find a place to rent.


This is why contacting a DUI lawyer at Whalen Montalvo Law should be your first step, even if your DUI charge was triggered by the use of prescription medications.

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