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Can I Get A DUI From Prescription or Over the Counter Drugs?

When most people think of someone driving under the influence, they likely think of someone driving under the influence of alcohol. However, Ohio law also prohibits driving under the influence of drugs. The Ohio OVI statute (in Ohio, DUI is known as “operating a vehicle under the influence”) states that “No person shall operate any vehicle…within this state if, at the time of the operation…the person is under the influence of alcohol, a drug of abuse, or a combination of them.” The statute lists the prohibited levels (“per se” limits) of some specific illegal drugs like amphetamine, cocaine, heroin, LSD, and marijuana. It does not list prohibited levels of any prescription medications. Despite that, court decisions in Ohio have stated that a person can be convicted of OVI for operating a vehicle under the influence of prescription medication. The Ohio law does not limit the definition of “drug of abuse” to only illegal drugs or certain prescription drugs. Common prescription drugs involved in OVI cases include Adderall, Ambien, Ativan, codeine, Demerol, hydrocodone, Klonopin, Lorcet, Lortab, Lunesta, methadone, morphine, Norco, oxycodone, Oxycontin, Percocet, Ritalin, Valium, Vicodin, and Xanax.

If a police officer suspects you of driving under the influence of drugs (prescription or otherwise), they might have probable cause to have you complete a blood or urine test to be able to identify any controlled substances in your system. Officers will seek a blood or urine test if a driver’s actions or mannerisms suggest they are under the influence of a particular drug, or that they may be impaired by something other than alcohol.

Prescription medications do not have a “per se” limits unlike alcohol or the illegal substances listed in the statute. This means it is usually harder for a prosecutor to prove that someone was actually impaired. Often, they will use the results of Field Sobriety Tests (FSTs) in combination with results of the blood or urine test to establish that a person’s ability to safely drive was affected by the drug. The scientific difficulty of determining if a substance was active or inactive at the time of testing also makes it harder for prosecutors to establish impairment. Additionally, each individual person has different reactions to and tolerances for prescription medications, making it even more difficult to establish that someone was unable to safely drive just because of the presence of a drug in their system.

What Are Defenses To Prescription Drug DUI Charges?

Ohio law does recognize a defense for drivers following the advice of their doctors. However, it is a limited defense. It states that OVI charges related to drug use do not apply to alleged offenders when they have more than the “per se” limit of a controlled substance in their system if: (1) the person obtained the controlled substance pursuant to a prescription issued by a licensed health professional authorized to prescribe drugs, AND (2) the person injected, ingested, or inhaled the controlled substance in accordance with the health professional’s directions.

This is a limited defense because it only applies to substances with “per se” limits listed in the statute, which does not include most prescription medications, and because a driver can still be convicted of OVI if the prescription medication is considered a “drug of abuse” and is impairing the driver’s ability to safely drive.

In some cases, you may have an unexpectedly poor reaction to a medication or combination of medications that you were directed by your doctor to take. This is unlikely to establish a defense for OVI because OVI is a “strict liability” offense. This means you don’t have to intend to have driven under the influence of drugs – the prosecution only has to prove that you were in fact driving while impaired. It is, therefore, best to be extra cautious about not driving while taking prescription medications if you are unsure how your body will react to them.

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If you have been charged with OVI for allegedly driving under the influence of a prescription drug, we are here to help! Call today to speak to an experienced OVI attorney about your options.