It may not surprise you to hear that alcohol is not the only substance that can impair you and cause a DUI charge. Driving under the influence of illegal drugs such as cocaine, various hallucinogens, and so on is illegal, although the ongoing controversy is beginning to create a legal grey area over medical marijuana. Many of us wouldn’t think twice about prescription drugs. However, the number of DUIs caused by prescription drugs in the State of Arizona is actually increasing.

prescription drug DUI lawAccording to the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, prescription drug DUI arrests between 2011 and 2012 went up from 11% of all DUI arrests to almost 15% of all DUI arrests.  Unfortunately, the punishments that prescription drug DUIs can be just as severe as regular DUIs, including heavy fines, court fees, potential jail time, and the potential suspension of your driver’s license for a full year.

Prescription drugs covers hundreds if not thousands of different types of medications, including antidepressants, stimulants, pain medications, and countless others. According to a 2011 study published by the Center for Disease Control, one in ten Americans is taking antidepressants. Painkillers can also be proscribed for post- surgery recovery, chronic pain or other reasons. These medications can affect the central nervous system’s transmission of pain signals to the brain, thus dulling a person’s perception of pain. However, many prescription drugs that affect the central nervous system will give cues of impairment during Field Sobriety Tests such as Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus. Also, warnings written (in fine print) on prescription medications will sometimes read: “Do not operate heavy machinery” such as a car. These may be easy to overlook, but are still important. Because there are so many different types of medications and warnings regarding use, restrictions on machinery use, and combining with other medications or substances, it is important to read the labels and adhere to proscribed doses of prescription medications.

The field of medicine continues to make incredible and groundbreaking discoveries andadvancements almost every day. Prescription drugs have helped millions of Americans manage and treat debilitating diseases. However, be aware of the medications you may be taking, especially if you have never taken them before. Know the restrictions and proscribed doses and make sure you follow them. Prescription drug DUI arrests can carry similarly harsh punishments, especially with Arizona’s strict laws.