Skip to main content

CA DUI - Prescription Drugs - Overview

California DUI – Prescription Drugs

California DUI cases involving substances other than alcohol are becoming increasingly common. District Attorney’s offices throughout the state routinely prosecute people for DUI who have no alcohol whatsoever in their systems, but do take medication for pain or anxiety or sleep disorders or any of a number of other valid uses. Unfortunately, many of these medications can affect one's ability to drive a vehicle safely, and most people are surprised to learn that they can be charged for DUI when they have just taken their prescription medication.

Vehicle Code Section 23152(a)

In a driving under the influence of a prescription drug case, the government must prove one's mental or physical abilities are so impaired that he or she is no longer able to drive a vehicle with the caution of a sober person, using ordinary care, under similar circumstances.

Blood Test Results – Not Enough

The mere fact that the medication shows up in a blood test is not enough for the prosecution to establish that one is guilty of a DUI, as they also must prove that the drugs are legally impairing your driving. Additionally, unlike a DUI involving alcohol, there is no automatic legal limit with respect to driving with prescription drugs in your system.

Law Enforcement Officers – Poorly Trained

The training that most officers receive in DUI investigations typically involves alcohol, and the standardized Field Sobriety Tests they are trained to administer also concern alcohol. Additionally, the breath machines only detect the presence of alcohol. Without a blood (or urine) test, then any prescription drugs one may have taken will not show up in your test results.

Single Car Accidents - Not Uncommon

Driving under the influence of prescription medication can be very dangerous and have serious and even fatal consequences for both the driver and others. It is not uncommon for certain prescription medication to cause drowsiness, which often leads to single car accidents.

Prosecution – On the Rise

As a result, prescription drug cases are on the rise throughout the state, as more and more people take more and more prescription medication. Additionally, despite state-wide budget problems, many District Attorney's offices are receiving grants for special training to prosecute prescription drug cases. Many of these cases are prosecuted based in large part merely upon the admissions of the driver as to what they have taken.

Arrested - What To Do?

It is imperative that if one has been arrested for driving under the influence of prescription medication, they consult with an experienced DUI attorney immediately. Many of these cases are defensible, and a good attorney knows how to mitigate those cases that are not.

About The Author

California DUI Attorney Jasen Nielsen is a former DUI prosecutor representing clients throughout California. He is certified on Standardized Field Sobriety Tests by the Ventura County Sheriff's Department, and has offices in Thousand Oaks, Ventura, and Santa Barbara.

Rate this guide


Avvo DUI email series

Sign up to receive a 3-part series of useful information and legal advice about DUIs.

Recommended articles about DUI

Can’t find what you’re looking for?


Post a free question on our public forum.

Ask a Question

- or -

Search for lawyers by reviews and ratings.

Find a Lawyer