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The Difficulty of Proving Prescription Drug DUIs

Illegal prescription drug use has become a major concern around the country as more people turn to these drugs for pain relief or recreational use. There has been a corresponding rise in arrests of motorists suspected of drug impaired driving. Unlike alcohol, however, prosecutors are having a difficult time obtaining convictions – and probably for good reason: you could face an arrest for DUI even for taking over-the-counter cold medicine.

Blood alcohol levels are detected through routine blood tests and breathalyzers. The blood alcohol content limit is typically 0.08 percent and has been established throughout the U.S., and the symptoms of impaired driving – slurred speech, erratic driving, lack of coordination, alcohol odor, abnormal behavior – are more easily detected.

On the other hand, many drugs remain in the system for up to 30 days, so it is difficult to estimate when the suspect might have ingested the drug, if it gets detected at all. Many states do not require law enforcement to quantify the amount of a drug in a DUI suspect’s system, and it is often difficult to prove the person was impaired.

Although alcohol generally has a similar effect on most people who drink, a particular drug will affect different people in different ways. Also, there are no standards by which to measure how much of a drug is illegal while driving or will likely cause impairment.

Law enforcement officials have attempted to resolve this problem by using drug recognition experts (DREs) and trained police officers. A DRE can recognize certain objective signs of drug impairment, and they are called to the scene if there is a driver suspected of impaired driving through drug use.

Another tool is videotaping a suspect at the scene of the arrest. Not all patrol cars have video cameras, however, so a conviction may rest solely upon the police officer’s observation and experience, which may not include DRE training.

Some states like Florida have begun to conduct quantitative tests for certain drugs and are adding more. By training more officers in drug impairment detection and adding video cameras to patrol cars, prosecutors may overcome their difficulties in convicting drug impaired drivers.

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