Medication for mental illnesses like anxiety, depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is so common that if you are not taking one, you probably know someone who is. These medications help millions of Americans work, care for their families and generally enjoy their lives. In fact, for many people, the drug (or combination of drugs) they are taking is literally saving their lives.
However, these medications can also cause side effects. If you drive and get pulled over, a police officer could decide that you were driving while impaired and arrest you. The fact that you take your medication for medicinal, not recreational, purposes would not make a difference in the officer’s mind.
Common side effects
According to the FDA, common side effects for medications that treat mental health conditions include:
- Blurred vision
- Slowed down movement
- Trouble concentrating
Everyone responds differently to different medicines. You might not realize that a new medication is affecting your driving abilities. Such effects can be temporary or can be controlled by taking a smaller dose under your doctor’s care. But unlike many crimes on the books in California, it does not matter whether or not you meant to drive while impaired.
A crime no matter what
The state vehicle code states: “It is unlawful for a person who is under the influence of any alcoholic beverage to drive a vehicle… it is unlawful for a person who is addicted to the use of any drug to drive a vehicle.” This language is commonly interpreted to mean that a motorist who is impaired by alcohol or a drug, including a prescription drug, is breaking the law. Whether the person intentionally made themselves impaired, such as by taking a recreational drug or drinking at a bar, or did not realize a prescription is affecting them, is irrelevant.
A realistic law?
Thus, you could find yourself facing DUI charges because of a new prescription. You could lose your driver’s license, have to pay a large fine, and might even spend time in jail. The authorities might argue that the best way to avoid this is not to drive for a while until you get used to a new prescription. But this is not realistic. Most people in Southern California depend on their vehicles. They commute to work and drive their kids to and from school. On weekends, they drive to shop for groceries and other household goods. These activities cannot easily stop for days or weeks.