Prescription Drug DUI Under Arizona Law

prescription drug dui

Driving under the influence (DUI) of drugs and alcohol is a serious offense in Arizona, and can result in severe consequences for those charged with driving while impaired.


In Arizona, it is not only illegal to drive under the influence of alcohol, but also under the influence of prescription drugs. If you are pulled over and found to have a valid prescription for the drugs in your system, you can still be charged with a DUI if you are impaired.


At Kolsrud Law Offices, we understand the complexities of DUI cases involving prescription drugs, and are here to help you through the legal process. Whether you are facing charges for driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or a combination of both, our experienced attorneys can provide you with the representation you need to protect your rights and defend your case.

Can You Get a DUI Under the Influence of Prescription Drugs

In Arizona, DUI laws are comprehensive. Arizona Revised Statutes §28-1381(A)(1) and §28-1381(A)(3) explicitly prohibit operating a vehicle "if a person is impaired to the slightest degree" by any drug, whether it is prescribed or illegal.


This means that even if you are taking prescription medications as advised by a healthcare provider, you can still face DUI charges if deemed impaired while driving.

Penalties for DUI on Prescription Medication

In Arizona, the consequences for driving under the influence of prescription medications are serious and can be as severe as those for alcohol or illegal drug-related DUIs. 


Overview of Penalties for Prescription Medication DUI


        ➤First Offense: Even as a first-time offender, you could face a minimum of 10 consecutive days in jail, fines and assessments totaling over $1,250, mandatory alcohol or drug education, treatment or counseling programs as ordered, and possible community service. A 90-day driver license suspension is also standard, with 30 days non-negotiable and the remaining 60 days possibly converted to restricted driving privileges.


       ➤Second Offense (Within 84 Months): Penalties escalate with subsequent offenses. A second DUI charge within seven years includes at least 90 days in jail, with a base fine of $3,000, increased assessment fees, one year of revoked driving privileges, and an ignition interlock device required for any vehicle operated by the offender post-license reinstatement.


      ➤Third Offense (Within 84 Months): Classified as an Aggravated DUI, this carries a minimum of four months in prison, up to $150,000 in fines plus surcharges, three years of revoked driving privileges, and an ignition interlock device required upon reinstatement of driving privileges.


Impact of Aggravating Factors on Sentencing


      ➤Presence of a Minor: Driving under the influence with a minor under the age of 15 in the vehicle can upgrade the DUI to an Aggravated DUI, irrespective of whether it is a first offense.

      ➤High Levels of Impairment: Exhibiting extremely high levels of impairment or recklessness can also lead to more severe penalties, including longer jail times and higher fines.


Long-term Consequences of a Prescription Drug DUI Conviction


      ➤Criminal Record: A DUI conviction remains on the criminal record and can affect future employment opportunities, professional licenses, and educational prospects.

      ➤Insurance Rates: Convictions lead to significantly higher car insurance rates and possible denial of coverage.

      ➤Personal and Professional Reputations: Beyond legal penalties, the personal and professional reputation impacts can be profound and enduring.


Arizona takes DUI offenses very seriously, and the penalties reflect the state's commitment to road safety. Anyone taking prescription medication that could impair their driving should be acutely aware of these laws and consider the potential legal consequences.


drug expert

What is the Role of Drug Recognition Experts

Drug Recognition Experts (DREs) are critical in enforcing DUI laws, particularly in cases involving prescription medication where impairment isn't as visibly apparent as it is with alcohol. DREs undergo specialized training to identify impairment from various substances, including legal prescription drugs.


Training and Qualifications of DREs


DREs complete a rigorous training program managed by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP). This program equips them to conduct the Drug Evaluation and Classification (DEC) protocol, a standardized series of tests designed to determine the category of drugs causing impairment.


Their training includes theoretical instruction, practical exercises, and field assessments, culminating in a comprehensive certification examination.


Procedures Used by DREs to Evaluate Impairment


The evaluation process begins with a breath alcohol test to exclude alcohol as the primary intoxicant. Following this, DREs conduct a twelve-step evaluation that includes physical, mental, and physiological tests.


These tests assess eye movements, divided attention, vital signs, and injection sites for evidence of drug use. To confirm their field observations, DREs coordinate with medical professionals for toxicological testing, analyzing blood, urine, or saliva samples.


Examples of DRE Impact on DUI Cases


In one instance in Phoenix, a driver exhibiting erratic behavior was subjected to a field sobriety test, which he failed. A DRE assessed him and identified signs consistent with the use of central nervous system depressants. His prescription for benzodiazepines supported the DRE's assessment, resulting in a DUI charge.


In another case from Tucson, a driver involved in a minor accident was evaluated by a DRE after showing no signs of alcohol impairment but displaying disorientation and slurred speech. The evaluation suggested impairment due to opioid use, confirmed by toxicological tests. The presence of prescription painkillers and a minor in the vehicle led to an aggravated DUI charge.


Legal Challenges and Considerations Regarding DRE Conclusions


The findings of DREs can face significant scrutiny in court. Defense attorneys may challenge the accuracy of the DRE's assessment, arguing that the observed symptoms could be due to medical conditions or fatigue rather than drug impairment.


Additionally, the scientific validity and the DRE's qualifications may be contested to dispute the admissibility of their testimony.

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Defenses to Prescription Drug DUI Charge

  • Challenging the Legality of the Traffic Stop

    One of the primary defenses begins with questioning the initial traffic stop:

    • Reasonable Suspicion: Our defense lawyers scrutinize whether law enforcement had reasonable suspicion to make the initial stop. A traffic stop without a valid reason can be deemed unconstitutional, and any evidence gathered during an illegal stop, including results from a drug test, may be suppressed.
  • Disputing the Results of the Drug Test

    Drug tests—whether blood, urine, or saliva—can be contested on several grounds:

    • Improper Handling: Experienced DUI lawyers may challenge the administration and handling procedures of the drug test. Errors in collection, storage, and analysis can affect the reliability of the test results.
    • False Positives and Contamination: We can argue that contamination or inherent flaws in the testing process led to false positives. For instance, certain medications or medical conditions might interfere with test results, incorrectly suggesting drug impairment.
  • Questioning the Evaluation by the Drug Recognition Expert

    The assessment by a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) is another focal point of the defense strategy:

    • Subjectivity of the Evaluation: Our DUI defense lawyers often challenge the subjective elements of the DRE's evaluation. The symptoms of drug impairment noted by a DRE can sometimes be attributed to other factors, such as illness, fatigue, or stress.
    • Qualifications and Errors: We may also contest the DRE's qualifications and potential errors in their assessment process. The defense might bring in expert witnesses to counter the DRE's findings or highlight inconsistencies in their report. 
  • Demonstrating the Lack of Impairment

    • Proper Use of Medication: If the defendant was taking the medication according to a doctor’s prescription and within the prescribed dosage, our DUI lawyer can argue that the prescribed use does not impair driving ability. Medical expert testimony might be utilized to prove that the individual's functioning was not significantly impaired by the medication.
    • Previous DUI Conviction Misconceptions: For clients with a previous DUI conviction, prosecutors might assume a propensity for driving under the influence. However, demonstrating that current medication use is compliant and medically supervised can distinguish the present circumstances from past offenses.

  • Other Mitigating Factors

    • Rising Drug Defense: Occasionally, the timing of drug ingestion relative to the time of arrest can be pivotal. The "rising drug defense" argues that the drug levels were rising between the time of driving and testing, suggesting that the driver was not impaired while operating the vehicle.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you drive while taking Xanax?

  • Xanax, prescribed for anxiety and panic disorders, can impair motor skills and cognitive functions. Arizona law states that driving while under any impairing prescription drug, including Xanax, could result in a DUI if it impairs your ability to drive to the slightest degree. If you are taking Xanax, consult with your healthcare provider about your ability to drive safely.


Is it legal to drive after taking prescription painkillers?

  • Prescription painkillers, especially opioids, can cause drowsiness, delayed reaction times, and cognitive impairment. Driving while taking such medications can lead to a DUI charge if these effects impair your driving ability. It’s essential to follow your doctor’s advice and possibly seek alternatives for pain management if you need to drive.


What should I do if I'm stopped by the police and I've taken prescription drugs?

  • If stopped by the police, you should comply with their instructions and be prepared to inform them of any prescription medications you are taking. However, you are not required to disclose this information unless asked directly. It’s advisable to carry proof of your prescription and, if arrested, contact a DUI defense lawyer immediately to protect your rights.


Can I refuse a drug test if I only take prescription drugs?

  • In Arizona, drivers impliedly consent to submit to drug or alcohol testing by operating a vehicle on public roads. Refusing a drug test can lead to automatic suspension of your driving privileges and potentially worsen your case. If you are on prescription drugs, a test may clarify the type and amount of medication in your system, which can be crucial for your defense.


How can I prove I was not impaired by my medication?

  • Proving non-impairment involves demonstrating that you were taking the medication according to the prescription and that the dosage prescribed is not known to impair driving ability. Expert testimony from a pharmacologist or similar medical expert can be pivotal. Additionally, showing a consistent history of using the medication without impairment can support your case.


What are the penalties for a DUI while on prescription drugs for a first-time offender?

  • For a first-time offender, penalties can include at least 10 days in jail, over $1,250 in fines and assessments, mandatory drug education or treatment programs, and a 90-day license suspension. These penalties underscore the seriousness of a DUI charge, even when legally prescribed medications are involved.



Contact Our Criminal Defense Attorneys

At Kolsrud Law Offices, Josh Kolsrud has an extensive background in handling serious criminal cases, including those involving DUI. With a history of over 3,500 cases and more than 100 jury trials, Kolsrud brings significant experience and a commitment to providing quality legal counsel.


We ensure detailed attention from the initial consultation through all phases of the legal process. For immediate assistance or to schedule a consultation, reach out to us via phone at (602) 638-3790 or visit our website to learn more and submit an inquiry through our contact form at Kolsrud Law Offices Contact Page.


Let Josh Kolsrud and his team at Kolsrud Law defend your rights and guide you towards a favorable legal outcome. 



An award-winning criminal defense attorney Since 2006

Why Choose Josh Kolsrud

With over 100 trials to his name, and years of experience as a state and federal prosecutor, Josh understands the law, the legal process, and your rights. Josh is also committed to representing every client with utmost integrity and dedication



Josh has prosecuted major crimes on the state and federal level, led a successful anti-human sex trafficking operation that saved lives, and argued before countless juries and justices for his clients



Josh is an expert in both Arizona and federal criminal law, and is ready to put that expertise to work for you.



As a prosecutor, Josh saw far too many defendants lose their livelihood due to poor representation. Josh will always give every client his complete attention and effort

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