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Can you be charged with DUI while using prescription drugs?

Usually, when you think about DUI in Indiana, you assume that a person was driving while under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs. You might wonder if it’s possible to be charged with DUI while using legal prescription drugs.

Reason for a DUI charge

When a police officer arrests a person for driving under the influence (DUI), it’s because they have shown that they are visibly impaired and unsafe to drive. Police are required to have probable cause for making the driver pull over, but there are no criteria stating that the person’s impairment is only caused by alcohol or illegal drugs. The individual being impaired while driving is enough for a DUI charge.

DUI charges while impaired by prescription medication

Depending on the prescription medication you have taken, you can become impaired and be charged with DUI. Some types of legally prescribed drugs can cause drowsiness and affect your ability to safely operate a vehicle. For example, painkillers and even some cough syrups can make you sleepy. These medications typically carry warnings stating that individuals who have taken them should avoid operating a vehicle or heavy machinery.

If you are arrested on charges of DUI due to taking prescription medication, the prosecution would have to prove that you were actually impaired. In some cases, varying levels of impairment may be difficult to prove. In other words, the prosecution might have to prove that a driver is “substantially affected” by the prescription medication.

Penalties for a conviction of DUI due to prescription drugs are the same as those for any other DUI. A first offense is classified as a class C misdemeanor, which means up to 60 days in jail and a fine of up to $500. The person’s driver’s license is also suspended for 180 days, but they may be able to get a restricted license with an ignition interlock device (IID) installed on their vehicle.

Subsequent DUI convictions involving prescription drug use carry heftier penalties. Two convictions within seven years also result in a felony charge.

Avoiding prescription drugs that cause impairment is best if you’re planning to drive.