Driving under the influence of Prescription Drugs

Modern pharmacology has produced a number of drugs that cause physiological symptoms similar to ones shown by someone who is drunk.  These drugs may or may not affect someone’s ability to drive safely.  Hence this is a growing problem and one that DUI lawyers in Pennsylvania and beyond need to monitor. Here is a recent article by the New York Times that outlines this growing problem:

Drivers on Prescription Drugs Are Hard to Convict

The accident that killed Kathryn Underdown had all the markings of a drunken-driving case. The car that hit her as she rode her bicycle one May evening in Miller Place, N.Y., did not stop, the police said, until it crashed into another vehicle farther down the road.

The driver could not keep her eyes open during an interview with investigators, according to the complaint against her, and her speech was slow and slurred. But the driver told the police that she had not been drinking; instead, the complaint said, she had taken several prescription medications, including a sedative and a muscle relaxant.

She was charged with vehicular manslaughter and driving under the influence of drugs — an increasingly common offense, law enforcement officials say, at a time when drunken-driving deaths are dropping and when prescriptions for narcotic painkillers, anti-anxiety medications, sleep aids and other powerful drugs are rampant.

The issue is vexing police officials because, unlike with alcohol, there is no agreement on what level of drugs in the blood impairs driving.

DUID in Pennsylvania with Prescription Drugs explained by Pennsylvania DUI Lawyer Justin McShane
DUID in Pennsylvania with Prescription Drugs

This is becoming a real problem all across the country and right here in Pennsylvania.  Some of the challenges that these cases present include:

  • The wide variety of drugs available and how they interact with the human body and within the body of the specific person in question
  • Dosage: how much is considered too much to operate a vehicle safely and whether or not a person can be held criminally responsible for bad dosing by the physician that prescribed the drugs.
  • The widespread usage of these drugs
  • The public in general is unaware of the effects of these drugs as opposed to the high level of familiarity with the effects of drinking alcohol
  • Not enough experts who understand the behavioral, psychomotor and cognitive functioning effects of these drugs
  • Dosage versus response

You should read the article in its entirety to see how complex these cases are.  One point that really caught my attention was:

Unable to prove impairment with blood tests, prosecutors in drugged-driving cases rely heavily on the testimony of “drug recognition experts,” law enforcement officers trained to spot signs of impairment in drivers. But there are only about 7,000 such officers nationwide, Mr. Hayes said, not nearly enough to respond to every traffic stop that may involve drugs.

Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) is a certification course offered by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP).  I can proudly say that all of the Pennsylvania DUI Lawyers at The McShane Firm have completed DRE training as per the NHTSA curriculum and have the ability, experience and knowledge to defend these complex cases.

The validity of the DRE program is currently in debate.

Keep in mind that Driving Under the Influence of Drugs (DUID) is prosecuted as if it were a DUI  of the highest level (BAC over .16) and thus carries mandatory jail time, 12-18 month license suspension, and heavy fines, if convicted.  If you or someone you know is charged with DUID in Pennsylvania, please call 1-866-MCSHANE to set an appointment with one of our knowledgeable DUI attorneys.  We can review your case and help chart out the best course of action to protect your rights.


Justin McShane

PA DUI attorney Justin J. McShane is the President/CEO of The McShane Firm, LLC - Pennsylvania's top criminal law and DUI law firm. He is the highest rated DUI attorney in PA as rated by Avvo.com. Justin McShane is a double Board certified attorney. He is the first and so far the only Pennsylvania attorney to achieve American Bar Association recognized board certification in DUI defense from the National College for DUI Defense, Inc. He is also a Board Certified Criminal Trial Advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy, a Pennsylvania Supreme Court Approved Agency.

2 responses to “Driving under the influence of Prescription Drugs”

  • Los Angeles Personal Injury Lawyer says:

    In most countries, anyone who is convicted of injuring or killing someone while under the influence of alcohol or drugs can be heavily fined; in addition to being given a lengthy prison sentence. If a defendant is sentenced to ten years, he or she will be in prison for that entire time.

    • When you write: “If a defendant is sentenced to ten years, he or she will be in prison for that entire time”, you are incorrect. All states provide for supervised parole.

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