Things to Know Before you Rx and Go – NC DWI’s Involving Prescription Medication

Did you know that you can be arrested for a DWI even if you have not consumed alcohol? Under NCGS 20-138.1 a DWI can apply to impairment as a result of alcohol as well as legal and illegal drugs. This means that if an officer in North Carolina feels there is probable cause that you are under the influence of any type of impairing substance, you may be arrested; even if you are taking medication that has been prescribed to you.

Many prescription drugs have the potential to impair and alter behavior. Because of the recent increase in prescription drug abuse, North Carolina has now trained officers to recognize signs of impairment. Even if you are taking the appropriate dose of a prescribed medication, there may be concerns regarding the effects the medications have on you and the potential for a DWI.

If an officer feels that you are under the influence of an impairing substance NC law does subject you to a “complied consent” blood sample if taken into custody G.S. 20?139.1. Both blood and urine samples may show the presence of prescription drugs. The use of medications such as Benzodiazepines (i.e. Valium, Klonopin) or pain medications (i.e Vicodin, Percocet) which specifically have warning labels for “operating heavy machinery” can be presented as evidence of impairment in a case, even if the medication was being used as prescribed.

Interestingly, DWI’s involving prescription medication can be harder for the state to prove that those involving alcohol. This is because there is a specific blood alcohol concentration (0.08) at or above which the state says you are impaired. However, with prescription medication, there is no specific number that can be used to indicate impairment, and different dosages of prescribed medications affect people in different ways, so it is more difficult to define impairment.

The potential consequences for a DWI from the use of prescription medication include six levels of punishment. The most severe could result in up to two years in jail and a $4,000 fine, and a less severe conviction could result in no jail time and probation and a smaller fine. Convictions are based on various aggravating and mitigating factors which include things such as prior convictions and your current driving record.

Seeking legal assistance in a case involving a DWI from a prescribed medication is crucial. A skilled attorney will be able to argue whether or not the actual medication was a factor of impairment. Using evidence of a lawfully obtained medication could allow you to prove that “therapeutic dosage” of the medication does not constitute impairment. The Chetson Firm is able to provide Wake County and North Carolina DWI defendants with skilled representation so that your case can be resolved quickly and successfully.

Damon Chetson

Damon Chetson is a Board Certified Specialist in State and Federal Criminal Law. He represents people charged with serious and minor offenses in Raleigh, Wake County, and the Eastern District of North Carolina. Call (919) 352-9411.