Driving under the influence of alcohol is a deadly activity; driving under the influence of too much medication can have the same result. An Arizona Republic article noted the state has seen a surge in DUIs tied to medicine as of late.
As legally prescribed drugs are more accessible and when they are mixed due to abuse or ignorance, an individual can often find themselves at odds with the law. A soaring number of drug-related arrests for driving under the influence has been attributed to the careless use of prescription drugs, better police training to recognize impairment and new equipment that detects traces of medications in blood samples.
A staggering number of drug-related DUI cases handled by the Arizona Department of Public Safety, 14,700 last year alone, was a 230 percent increase from 4,400 handled in 1999. By contrast, the state only experienced a 38 percent increase in population during the same time period.
Laws within the state require an officer to have probable cause that a driver is impaired before stopping a car and asking for a field sobriety test. If the test – or a subsequent blood sample – returns a positive result, the driver can be arrested on suspicion of DUI. A number of these individuals do not consider themselves criminals or drug users.
Crime-lab analysts stress the importance of probable cause before an officer stops a motorist, issues a DUI citation and gets a blood sample. The officers need to explain to the individual exactly why they were stopped and why they are being cited.
"There are times when there is actually a debate. When you advise that they’re under arrest for DUI, they don’t understand. They explain, ‘I wasn’t drinking,’ " said Sgt. Ed Wessing, a drug-recognition expert with the Mesa Police Department. "We explain that, ‘You’re not under arrest for consuming alcohol. It’s for consuming drugs.’ "