Drinking and driving isn’t the only drug-related danger on the road. Over the last decade, prescription drugs have increasingly become another threat on Texas and U.S. roads. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 12 percent of the 39,252 fatal car crashes in 2005 involved a driver who tested positive for drugs. Ten years later in 2015, that number nearly doubled and grew to 21 percent of 32,166 fatal car crashes involving a driver who tested positive for drugs.1
A 2010 nationwide study of fatal car crashes also determined that 47 percent of drivers who had tested positive for drugs had been using a prescription drug, the most common being pain relievers.2 In many cases, it’s uncertain if the driver had used the drugs medically or recreationally, but either way, it’s safe to say that certain prescription drugs can pose real dangers for drivers and passengers on the road.
Can I Get a DUI From Prescription Drugs?
Yes, you can get a DUI from prescription drugs. If you’re caught driving under the influence of prescription drugs like prescription opioids, sleep aids or antidepressants (among others) in Texas, you could be charged with a DUI or a DWI and face hefty fines, community service, driver’s license suspension/revocation, or even go to prison.
Although alcohol-related DUIs are often what come to mind first, drivers can certainly get a DUI if their driving is impaired by prescription drugs. Drugged driving offenses can occur whether the prescription drugs are taken for medical purposes or recreationally.
Driving Under the Influence of Prescription Drugs in Texas
While “per se” DUI laws in a few states prohibit drivers from getting behind the wheel if their BAC measures .08 percent or more, impairment DUI laws focus on the effects the drug has on the driver, rather than the measured amount in the driver’s body at the time of the incident. If a person is charged with a DUI due to prescription drug abuse, it will likely be charged under impairment DUI laws.3
In Texas, drugged driving laws apply to a large variety of substances. This includes commonly abused illegal drugs like cocaine, marijuana, and methamphetamine, as well as prescription drugs like narcotics, antidepressants, or sleep aids. In short, a Texas driver can get a DWI or DUI if they are driving while impaired by any single substance or mixture of substances.4
Even if a doctor has prescribed a medication for you, any side effects caused by that prescription drug may impair your ability to drive. It’s your responsibility to make sure you don’t get behind the wheel of a car if you are impaired by prescription drugs or any other substances.
Legal Use of Prescription Medications
Legal use of prescription medications involves taking a prescription drug exactly as prescribed by your doctor. This means you follow all explicit directions and recommendations your doctor gives you regarding taking the drug. However, following your doctor’s orders does not guarantee that you will not experience any adverse effects after taking the drug and it will not protect you from any legal consequences of driving while impaired. Prescription drugs may affect people differently, and you may experience some negative effects that could impair your ability to safely operate a vehicle.
Abusing prescription drugs for any reason is illegal and can cause harmful side effects, tolerance, physical dependence, and addiction.
Side Effects of Prescription Drugs That Can Impair Your Driving
The misuse of many prescription drugs can cause side effects that may inhibit your ability to drive safely by impairing coordination and motor skills. Although different prescription drugs may affect one person differently than another, you should always take the prescribed dosage and heed the warnings on the label.
Some of the most common prescription drug side effects that impair driving abilities include:
- Drowsiness/extreme tiredness
- Blurred vision
- Difficulty focusing or concentrating
- Labored movement
- Slowed reaction time
- Dulled alertness
- Increased risk taking
Common Prescription Drugs That Can Impair Driving
While many prescription drugs have the potential to cause the above side effects, many drugged driving offenses and DUIs are caused by commonly abused prescription drugs, such as:
- Valium – This benzodiazepine is typically prescribed to relieve symptoms of anxiety, muscle spasms, and seizures. The effects of valium last much longer than that of other benzodiazepines (20 to 70 hours), so users that take more frequent doses or larger doses of this drug are likely to experience adverse side effects as a result.5
- Sleeping pills – Sleeping aids like triazolam (Halcion) or temazepam (Restoril) can help people who are suffering from insomnia, sleepwalking, or night terrors, but they can also cause severe drowsiness during the day.6 Other commonly abused sleep aids include Sonata, Lunesta, and Ambien.
- Hydrocodone – Hydrocodone is a commonly prescribed opioid painkiller and a narcotic analgesic. When used for a short period of time, it’s usually safe. However, it is a highly addictive drug and hydrocodone misuse can cause extreme relaxation, drowsiness, confusion, and nausea.7 Abusing any prescription opioid while driving can be fatal.
- Antidepressants – Antidepressants are one of the most commonly prescribed drugs in the U.S., so it’s no surprise they are also frequently abused. Misuse of prescription drugs like alprazolam and trazodone may have side effects that affect a driver’s ability to react to brake lights, steer, concentrate, and scan their surroundings.8
- Medical marijuana – Although medical marijuana is not legal in all states yet, drivers who are using medical marijuana or abusing it recreationally may be a potential threat to themselves or others on the road. Marijuana can cause side effects like slurred speech or the inability to operate a vehicle. In Texas, it’s illegal to drive a car under the influence of marijuana and may result in a DUI or DWI.
Facts and Statistics on Prescription Drugged Driving
- Although 66 percent of people consider driving under the influence of alcohol a serious threat and 56 percent of people consider driving under the influence of illegal drugs a serious threat, only 28 percent of people think driving under the influence of prescription drugs is a serious threat.10
- Some types of antidepressants have been shown to increase a driver’s crash risk by up to 41 percent.10
- Prescription drugs are the most prevalent of all drugs found in drugged drivers who were involved in fatal car crashes (46.5 percent). This number has continually increased since 2005.10
- Benzodiazepines and opiates are the two most common drugs involved in fatal car crashes.10
DUI Addiction Treatment Instead of Jail
Drivers charged with DUIs as a result of prescription drug abuse are notoriously more difficult to convict than drunk drivers, simply because physical impairment can’t always be proven with blood tests. Additionally, there are only about 7,000 police officers nationwide that are “drug recognition experts”, or officers that are trained to recognize signs of impairment in drivers.9
If you’ve been charged with a DUI or DWI for driving under the influence of prescription drugs, enrolling in detox and rehab may strengthen your case with the court and give you the chance to overcome your addiction, rather than spend months or years in jail because of it.
A medical detox program for prescription drug dependence serves as an excellent foundation for a comprehensive drug addiction treatment program. Not only will it help you overcome your physical dependence on prescription drugs, but you’ll also start working with a clinical counselor to address your psychological dependence as well, which is great preparation for a drug rehab program.
Instead of continually getting DUIs, paying large fines, or serving jail time as a result of your prescription drug abuse or addiction, consider enrolling in a medical detox program and rehab to overcome your addiction once and for all.