Prescription Pain Killers and a DUI in Phoenix

by Aaron Black • May 10, 2018
Presciption drugs and a DUI in PhoenixPatients who drive while on prescription medications containing opioids to relieve pain can be charged with driving under the influence (DUI) in Phoenix, just as those who drink and drive.

Arizona law is tough on prescription defendants under the state’s per se law, meaning that the offense is obvious because it is determined by any detectable amount of drugs.

The same misdemeanor and felony DUI penalties are in place for prescription opioid medication violations. Penalties are serious including incarceration, fines, loss of the driving privilege and firearm possession, and a lengthy term of probation. A criminal conviction also follows a person for the rest of their life, harming chances for employment and living with the stigma and embarrassment as a convict.

A prescription opioid impaired driver who causes injury or death to someone elevates the charge to the more serious felony of vehicular manslaughter and opens the door to civil liability and financial ruin.

Driving on medication containing opioids has defenses in Phoenix, AZ. But first let’s examine the issue and why law enforcement is adamant about prosecuting those who drive while on prescription opioid drugs.

Prescription Pain Medication Abuse Soaring

More opioid prescriptions are written today than ever before.

Law enforcement is aware that the use and abuse of prescription opiate medications have been climbing for two decades and that prescription opioid drugs are often taken with alcohol and other drugs. (Opiate and opioid terms defined: Opiate comes from the poppy plant used in morphine, codeine and heroin. Opioid includes natural and synthetic opiates, such as Vicodin and OxyContin.)

The American Journal of Public Health reported that researchers determined opioid prescription overdose deaths climbed from 1 percent to 7.2 percent between 1995 and 2015. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that Opioid prescription overdoses reached 17 percent between 2015 and 2017.

A national roadside survey conducted in 2013 and 2014 by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) revealed that 20 percent of the drivers it surveyed on weekend evenings tested positive for drugs that could cause impairment.

Mothers Against Drunk driving added drug impairment to its mission statement in 2015.

Arizona Reins In Opioid Prescriptions

In Arizona, and nine other states, the CDC determined that the number of prescriptions containing opioids totaled the second highest in the nation. Responding to that, the Arizona legislature in January 2018 adopted a bill pushed by Governor Doug Ducey to curb opioid overdoses, which have killed 800 Arizonians in the final six months of 2017, the governor stated.

The new law, which takes effect in November 2018, limits opioid prescriptions to last five days, or 14 days for surgical patients, and limits morphine equivalents to 90 milligrams, except for burn, cancer, and hospice patients. For patients who need more medication, doctors must get approval from a board certified Pain Management Practioner.

Side Effects of Prescription Opioid Medicines

Pharmaceutical companies are required by law to publish warnings about the side effects, and we’ve all seen the warnings on the prescription labels.

Opioids are a narcotic and are routinely prescribed, but they can be addicting. Other side effects are drowsiness, dizziness, confusion, depression, nausea, euphoria, a built up tolerance requiring stronger doses for the same effect, and withdrawal symptoms when the medication is stopped.

Opioid medicines commonly prescribed include, Codeine, Robitussin A-C, Tylenol with Codeine, Empirin with Codeine, Roxanol, Demerol, Morphine, and Percodan.

Defending a Prescription Opioid Charge

The best DUI defense  in Phoenix, AZ begins at the moment you’re pulled over. I always urge drivers not to answer questions posed by the officer because anything that’s said becomes evidence and the state will not hesitate to use your words against you to achieve a conviction. It’s perfectly legal to decline answering questions as a matter of fact it’s your Constitutional right under the Fifth Amendment, which prohibits self-incrimination. Just be polite.

The obstacle to overcome is the per se law that allows a conviction even if the impairment was to the slightest degree, compared to 0.08 percent blood alcohol content for alcohol impairment. Also, opioid drugs linger in the body longer than alcohol.

The key to a defense is proving that the driver was at the therapeutic level and not impaired.

Cases have their own sets of circumstances. A defense is built on documentation, science, and expert medical testimony.
  • Documentation: The defendant must produce a valid prescription written by a physician for a specific medical reason to prove the patient had a legal right to possess and use the drug. The testimony of the prescribing physician can be very beneficial.
  • Science: The type of medicine containing an opioid must be quantified through reports from a blood lab to show the level of the drug involved. The prosecution will have this information. The defense must obtain its own blood analysis to contradict the state’s test and the accuracy of the state’s test.
  • Experts: Prosecution and defense lawyers can bring in opioid medication experts to testify about the amount of impairment or the lack of impairment based on the strength of the particular drug and how long it was in the body before the traffic stop per individual metabolism.

Timely, Competent Legal Representation is Essential

With the potential loss of freedom and other restrictions at stake, representation by a DUI defense attorney in Phoenix who is well-versed in Arizona’s opioid prescriptions law and who has a thorough knowledge of the court system’s complicated procedures and rules is crucial.

In addition to my experience, I am committed to my clients. I believe good people who are in difficult situations deserve an aggressive DUI defense and personalized service so they don’t need to take time away to appear in court unless the law requires the defendant’s presence. I maintain a small case load so clients don’t have to share my time with many others.

Each case is different, but my goal is to earn a dismissal of the DUI charges in Phoenix. Working toward that end I conduct a thorough legal analysis of the state’s evidence and perform my own investigation to challenge the state’s theory of the case.

Free Legal Consultation Offered

It’s crucial to promptly retain legal counsel before any court appearance and while evidence and memories are fresh.

I invite you to arrange for my free consultation without any obligation to hire me. To schedule an appointment contact Phoenix DUI Defense Attorney Aaron Black or call 480-729-1683.
In light of the Coronavirus pandemic, I wanted to inform clients and potential clients I am still available for consultations. I am always available by phone, text and/or email. We can also use Facetime for social distancing. The criminal justice system is not stopping due to COVID-19.

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