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I Took a Prescription Drug. Can I Be Charged with a DWI?

Perhaps you just started a new medication your doctor prescribed. You took a couple before getting behind the wheel, and a while later, you see the flashing lights of a police cruiser in your review mirror. After you stop, the police officer tells you that they pulled you over on suspicion of driving while intoxicated. But you didn't drink an alcoholic beverage. You couldn't possibly be facing a criminal charge because you took a prescription medication, could you?

Unfortunately, many people aren't aware that they can be charged with and even convicted of a DWI if they're caught driving under the influence of a prescription medication. It's not illegal to be behind the wheel after taking the drug if you have a valid prescription for it. Rather, the behavior becomes an offense when the substance affects you in such a way that you cannot safely control your vehicle.

What "Intoxication" Means in Texas

Texas's drunk driving law states that a person is committing an offense when they are operating a vehicle on a public road while intoxicated. "Intoxicated" doesn't just pertain to the effects of alcohol and/or illegal drugs.

The law defines it as "not having the normal use of mental or physical faculties" because of:

  • Alcohol,
  • Controlled substances,
  • Drugs,
  • Dangerous drugs, or
  • Any other substances

Prescription medications can have various side effects. For instance, they can cause blurred vision, loss of balance, and delayed reaction, among other things. Some even have a warning on the bottle stating that a person shouldn't drive or operate heavy machinery after taking the substance.

Thus, because a prescription medication can affect your ability to drive your car safely, you can be considered being intoxicated by it and can be charged with DWI if you drive while impaired by it.

The conviction penalties a court may impose for a prescription drug DWI are the same as those for an alcohol-related matter.

Proving a Prescription Impaired Driving Offense

Just as with an alcohol-related DWI, with a prescription drug DWI, the State must prove that you were impaired while operating your vehicle. Often, these types of matters can be challenging for the prosecution because the methods used to gather evidence in an alcohol DWI case aren't always effective in prescription medication DWIs.

For instance, field sobriety tests are only validated for alcohol impairment. Therefore, although an officer might administer an FST to determine intoxication, performance may not be related to the use of a prescription medication. Additionally, breath and blood tests measure alcohol concentration levels, which means a prescription drug may not show up. Also, the state doesn't have a legal limit for medications as it does for alcohol.

Although traditional methods of measuring intoxication may not be applicable in a prescription medication driving while intoxicated case, that does not mean the State will drop the charge. The prosecutor may rely on other evidence, such as the officer's observation of your driving behavior or statements you made about taking a prescription drug before getting behind the wheel.

Because of the challenges of a prescription drug impaired driving matter, it's imperative to have a skilled attorney on your side. At Hamilton Grant PC, we have helped residents of Dallas and the surrounding areas navigate their driving while intoxicated charges. We have developed effective defenses to challenge accusations and even handled a prescription medication DWI case where a jury returned a not guilty verdict within 12 minutes of deliberations.

For help fighting your charge, call us at (214) 225-7117 or contact us online today.