Driving Under the Influence of Prescription Drugs: Charges & Penalties

Driving Under the Influence of Prescription Drugs

Image this scenario: You overhear the man in front of you talking to the pharmacist about his pain medications. He isn’t trying to lower his voice, and you can’t help but hear him. He asks about the new narcotic he had been prescribed, presumably for pain.

As he lists the heavy-duty narcotics he had been on and the number of years he had been on them, you start to think about the prescription narcotic abuse epidemic in this country.

He was, apparently, being prescribed a stronger drug – one that is usually meant for cancer patients with very bad pain to manage. That was when you start to wonder if he was actually a small-time drug dealer.

However, then the man asks, almost casually, how safe it was to drive on these meds.

To her credit, the pharmacist tells him that not only was it not safe to drive on the meds but named the amount in fines he could receive if he was caught.

The man walks out of there anyway, presumably to drive himself home.

This story highlights the need for medical professionals to be very clear about the legality of taking large doses of pain medication, or taking any strong pain medication, whether prescribed or not. If they aren’t careful, not only the patients but potentially the medical professionals who prescribe these drugs could end up in legal trouble.

Prescription Drugs Epidemic

You should know that our government – both state and federal – has taken this problem seriously. More funds have been allocated to combat it including more training for police to spot people who are driving under the influence of prescription drugs.

From here on out, it is going to become a lot easier to be arrested and prosecuted for this. There are three laws that can apply:

Operating While Intoxicated

This includes all controlled substances. Michigan Compiled Laws MCL 257.625(1)(a)

This is a DUI, essentially. If there is impairment in your driving, there can be a charge even if it’s a prescribed drug. You could be looking at a $500 fine, 30-day suspension of your license and possible jail time.

Driving Under the Influence of (Schedule I) Drugs

Michigan Compiled Laws MCL 257.625(8)

This isn’t directly related to prescription drugs, as Schedule I drugs are drugs which have no medical benefit and aren’t legal, including marijuana. However, no driving impairment is necessary for you to be charged with this crime, just a presence of the drug in your system.

Operating While Visibly Impaired

Michigan Compiled Laws MCL 257.625(2)(c) (3)

This one is largely up to the discrimination of the arresting officer, as it’s not about the level of impairment. The state doesn’t have to prove anything other than that you are visibly more impaired than a regular driver. You could get a $500 fine, suspension, and jail time for this also.

If your crime causes the injury or death of another person, it will automatically be a felony and penalties will be much harsher: up to 15 years in prison, and fines up to $10,000.


Many people are still reliant on prescription drugs to manage pain, as we have yet to solve the “epidemic.” If you are on prescription drugs for pain management, be sure to find out when, or if, it is safe to drive on them. Don’t wait for a doctor to make it clear to you.

If you are facing charges related to driving under prescription drugs, call my office today. You need an experienced criminal defense attorney working for you.

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