Can I Be Charged with DWI for Taking Prescription Drugs in Texas?


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Can I Be Charged with DWI for Taking Prescription Drugs in Texas?

The short answer is, “Yes, absolutely.” Many Texans mistakenly believe that they cannot be charged with driving while impaired (DWI) if they are on prescription drugs.

But that is not true. A police officer might have grounds to arrest you and charge you with DWI even if you did not consume alcohol or illegal drugs. You can be charged with DWI for taking prescription medications.

If you have been arrested on suspicion of impaired driving after taking prescription or over-the-counter drugs, consult with a Belton criminal attorney right away.

Can You Get a DWI for Taking Prescription Medications in Texas?

Statistically speaking, 66% of American adults use prescription drugs. Many of those who take prescription medications operate motor vehicles.

Prescription medications can increase the risk of impairment because some of them affect a person’s driving abilities. In Texas, police officers can arrest you for DWI even if you have a valid prescription for medication that caused your impairment.

Some prescription drugs can impair your ability to operate a motor vehicle safely, the same as alcohol or illegal drugs. However, a driver may have a better chance of dismissing their DWI charge if they were impaired by prescription or over-the-counter medications. For this reason, it is vital to speak with a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney to protect your rights and fight the DWI charges.

What Prescription Drugs Do Impair Driving?

As mentioned earlier, you can be charged with DWI in Texas whether you were impaired by prescription or over-the-counter medication, even if you have a verifiable serious medical condition and a valid prescription.

Some of the most common medicines that may impair your driving abilities include:

  • Antidepressants. Many Americans rely on antidepressants to relieve long-term symptoms of chronic depression and treat dysthymia (chronic depressive disorder). Antidepressants affect every person differently. While some types of depression medication (e.g., Trazodone and Nefazodone) may make you drowsy and slow your reaction time, other antidepressants (Prozac, Paxil, and others) may cause insomnia and tiredness.

  • Pain-relieving medications. Pain relievers, commonly referred to as painkillers, help people relieve and stop the pain. However, these drugs can also affect driving performance because opiates, including hydrocodone (Vicodin), oxycodone (OxyContin), codeine, and morphine, among others, can cause sleepiness, sedation, confusion, nausea, and dizziness, all of which may negatively affect a driver’s ability to drive safely.

  • Anti-anxiety drugs and muscle relaxants. These two groups of prescription medications, which include Xanax and Valium, can impair a driver’s judgment and negatively affect reaction times due to their tranquilizing effect.

  • Cannabidiol (CBD) products. So far, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved only one CBD product, Epidiolex. The agency approved the prescription CBD drug for the treatment of seizures associated with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS) and Dravet syndrome. According to the FDA, CBD products are known to cause sedation, sleepiness, and lethargy, which is why the agency warns drivers to use caution when taking cannabidiol products.

  • Over-the-counter (OTC) medications. Some OTC medications, including allergy and cold medicines, can impair your driving abilities as well. Some OTC drugs can cause blurred vision, nausea, and drowsiness, among other side effects.

It is critical to use extreme caution when taking any of the above-mentioned prescription or over-the-counter drugs or any other medications if you are planning to operate a motor vehicle. Drivers who drive while impaired by prescription and OTC drugs can be charged with DWI in Texas.

Driving While Impaired (DWI) for Taking Prescription Medications in Texas

A common misconception among Texas drivers is that they cannot be arrested and/or found guilty of DWI if they were not consuming alcohol or illegal drugs.

However, under Texas law, you can face DWI charges if your driving ability is impaired by prescription or over-the-counter medications, even though they are legal to use, unlike illicit drugs.

Texas Penal Code § 49.01 defines the term “intoxication” as having a driver’s “mental or physical faculties” impaired due to the introduction of the following substances into the driver’s body:

  • Alcohol;

  • Illegal drugs;

  • Dangerous drugs;

  • Controlled substances; or

  • A combination of two or more of these substances.

Therefore, the word “intoxication” is defined in a way that makes it possible to charge drivers with DWI for taking prescription medications and over-the-counter drugs.

If a police officer has a reasonable belief that you are impaired by alcohol or any other substance, they can pull you over, ask you questions, request field sobriety tests, and order a Breathalyzer or blood test for the presence of alcohol in your system.

Previously, we talked about refusing a Breathalyzer or blood test after a DWI in Texas.

What Are the Penalties for a Prescription Drugs DWI in Texas?

A conviction of DWI for taking prescription medication is associated with the same penalties as for DWIs after consuming alcohol, drugs, or other substances.

According to Texas Penal Code § 49.04, punishment for driving while impaired by prescription or OTC drugs depends on the number of prior DWI convictions on your record:

  • A first DWI conviction is a Class B misdemeanor punishable by up to $2,000 in fines and no more than 180 days in jail.

  • A second DWI conviction is a Class A misdemeanor with the punishment of up to 1 year in jail and fines of up to $4,000.

  • A third and any subsequent DWI conviction is a felony offense with the penalties ranging from two to 10 years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000.

In fact, you can be charged with DWI for merely admitting to taking prescription or over-the-counter medications even if you are not actually impaired.

What Are the Potential Defenses if I Was Charged with DWI for Taking Prescription Drugs?

Contrary to popular belief, the “I had a valid prescription from my doctor” is not a defense to a DWI charge if your ability to operate a motor vehicle is impaired after consuming prescription drugs.

However, keep in mind that when the police pull you over, you have no obligation to tell the officer that you are on prescription or over-the-counter drugs.

If the officer believes that you are impaired by alcohol or drugs and orders you to take a Breathalyzer test, the test will most likely show a negative result.

Therefore, you can prevent the police from arresting you for DWI for taking prescription medications by not telling the officer that you are taking any medicines.

If you have been arrested for DWI, your attorney may still be able to help you fight the charges by proving that the medications in question do not impair your ability to drive.

Speak with a Belton Criminal Defense Attorney Today

Contact our Belton criminal attorneys at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard to determine the best defense strategy if you were charged with DWI for taking prescription drugs. Schedule a free case review by calling 254-501-4040 today.


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