DUI also refers to medication

by Rex Fisher

We have just passed the Fourth of July Holiday. We have all heard and read the many advertisements cautioning everyone about driving and drinking alcoholic beverages. I realize that most of us who are using medications do not drink alcohol. But there is more to what DUI means, as I found out.

Take a few minutes and read this message and hopefully you will continue to lead a safe life and will not endanger yourself or others.

Well to begin this I will tell you that I was 55 years of age at the time that this took place. I was working full time, five 8 hour days a week. At that time (November 2002), each day I was taking both Diazepam (generic Valium), 10 mg, and Tizanidine, (generic Zanaflex), 24 mg. These medications were prescribed for me by my neurologist. The times that I was to take these medications was included in the prescriptions.

This was a week day and I was at work, preparing to drive to my neurologist for an injection of Botox in my legs. I was pretty tired but I thought, no problem, just drive to the doctor, have the treatment, and drive home. So I had my lunch an hour early, with the 8 mg of Tizanidine. I left for the doctor.

Well about an hour later, I woke from an automobile accident. I had fallen asleep. I totaled my car, but was uninjured. No one else had been injured either. I was wearing a seat belt and shoulder harness and the air bags had deployed and struck me in the chest. This impact was extremely tender but it saved my life so it was worth the pain.

Then the worst began to happen. Folks began to stop to help out and ensure that I was all right. A member of a rural ambulance staff arrived and secured me until more medical help arrived.

About a half a hour later, an officer from the California Highway Patrol arrived. He checked out the situation and began asking me questions about what had occurred before the accident and if I had been injured. He noted in his report that I was driving a vehicle with Disabled Plates. He asked what my disability was and I told him what my diagnosis was.

I told him that I was wearing braces on both legs and that I was pretty tired and I was having to think before promptly answering his questions. This was less than a hour after the accident and I was still somewhat encumbered by the "shock" of having experienced the accident. He noted in his report that my responses and speech were slow. He asked me if I took medications and how often. I responded with the correct information and mentioned that I had taken lunch and my Tizanidine an hour earlier than usual.

The ambulance then transported me to the hospital. I was examined by a physician and EMT’s. No injuries other than bruises from the impacts of the air bag and the shoulder harness.

The officer was there. He asked me more specific questions about my medicines. He also asked me if I knew that there were cautionary messages for these medicines. I told him that I had read them thoroughly.

He then gave me two separate field sobriety tests. Both using my hands as I do not walk and had told him that I use either canes or a wheel chair. I was not quick when touching my fingers together and slapping my hands together.

His report indicated that he suspected that I was still Under the Influence of the Medications that I was taking under prescription and I had been Driving Under the Influence of them when I had my accident. He did not note that I had been short of sleep for several previous nights as I had explained to him.

I was required to give them a Blood Test. The Blood Test concluded that there was a presence of the chemical contained in my prescriptions.

I went home to recover and I thanked the Lord that I had not been severely injured nor had anyone else.

In January 2003, I received a letter from the state Department of Motor Vehicles directing that my driving privilege had been suspended.

I was required to complete a medical examination, an oral interview with a Department Hearing Officer, and an operator driving examination. I successfully completed these requirements and after four months, I received my drivers license back. During this time, I slowly reduced the quantity of Diazepam, (Valium) that I was taking to 2 mg per day. I am currently taking that dosage. I am now more alert.

In February, I received a letter from the local District Attorney’s Office. This letter informed me that I had been cited for driving a vehicle while "Under the Influence", (DUI). I do not remember the exact statute of the California Penal Code that was referenced in the letter. But it specifically referenced that a "Drug" not only applies to Alcohol and Illegal Substances, but to Prescribed Drugs and Over the Counter Drugs and Medicines as well.

So Finally Here It Is:

I was driving a vehicle on a public highway, I had been taking prescribed medications in the dosages directed in the prescription. I had made an incorrect decision to drive when I was very tired, had fallen asleep and had experienced a terrible vehicle accident. Now the presumption was that I had violated the Law by driving while "Under the Influence".

I am not going to list the possible penalties that result from a conviction on this statue, but they are severe, expensive, and are not at all convenient. Also I want to state that the ADA rules are not considered in this action. You are the one that is responsible for your actions.

I was required to obtain legal assistance and was able to avoid most of the penalties by a defense of extreme fatigue rather than driving under the effects or influence of medications or drugs.

Folks, Please!! Realize this. I was very lucky in both surviving the accident, and not injuring or killing anyone else. It makes no difference what medication you are taking. It can be an over the counter variety or a prescribed medication. If you are driving while taking a couple of cold pills, a Tylenol, or a Valium and you demonstrate unsafe driving actions, you can be stopped and cited for Driving Under the Influence. I know, I have been there.

I am writing this to each of you because I notice on the email support groups that folks write that they are experiencing fatigue, drowsiness, stress, hallucinations, changes in medications that have caused unknown side effects on their bodies, changing dosages of their medicines. Yet at the same time, I read that some of these same folks are driving vehicles.

Please take some time to consider what I have experienced and the potential effects that your driving and the possibility of a vehicle accident may have on you or anyone one else!

I am now considering how alert I am before I drive, how tired I am, are my legs painful, how stressed or relaxed I am. If I am tired, hurting or stressed I do not drive. I let my wife or someone else drive. It is not worth risking someone else’s life or property or my own to drive when I am not alert or in proper physical condition.

Please Stop and Think. If you need transportation, find some help. It is out there and available to us. God Bless You – Take care of yourselves. I hope this message helps you all or someone that you know.


Saturday, September 8th, 2012