Prescription Drugs and OWI: Can Following a Doctor’s Orders Lead to an Arrest?

It’s common knowledge that alcohol and certain prescription medications are not supposed to be mixed — particularly if you’re planning to drive. Prescription drugs for pain, anxiety and depression typically have alcohol-related warnings on the bottles, as well as warnings against drowsiness and operating heavy machinery.

Still, sometimes people make mistakes and find themselves facing an OWI charge after drinking alcohol and taking a prescribed medication.

What if alcohol wasn’t involved?

In most cases, police officers decide to conduct field sobriety tests after smelling alcohol on a driver’s breath. But even if there’s not a whiff of alcohol, a police officer could ask you to submit to a field sobriety test if you’re suspected of being otherwise intoxicated. For example, certain medications can cause slowed reaction time or slurred speech. If you exhibit these, you could be asked to step out of the vehicle for sobriety testing.

Some prescription drugs are strong enough that taking the prescribed dosage could cause a person to show signs of intoxication. In other words, it’s possible for a driver to be pulled over after simply following a doctor’s orders.

Can a person be convicted of OWI based solely on drugged driving?

The law in Wisconsin says that drivers are prohibited from operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of an intoxicant to a degree that makes that person incapable of driving safely. “Intoxicants” may include alcohol, as well as prescription drugs and other controlled substances.

However, prosecutors need evidence to get a conviction. Depending on the circumstances, police and prosecutors may not have enough evidence of drugged driving, and the results of field sobriety tests may not be enough to convict a person.

No arrest automatically leads to a conviction. If you have been arrested for OWI, it’s important to start mounting your best defense as soon as possible.

With the Opioid Crisis in Wisconsin Ongoing, Prosecutors Are Cracking Down

In 2017 — the most recent year with available data — there were 916 opioid-related overdose deaths in Wisconsin. In 2016, Wisconsin saw 865 opioid-related overdose deaths.

The opioid crisis continues to affect families throughout the state. People with addiction problems may face serious criminal charges. If you or someone you love has been arrested for possession, sale or distribution of prescription painkillers or heroin, it’s important to know the available treatment options, as well as the options for mounting your best defense against the charge.

Doctors and nurses in Wisconsin have been warned by federal prosecutors.

Federal prosecutors recently sent warnings to 180 doctors, nurses and physician assistants in Wisconsin. They were told that they had been prescribing more opioids than their peers, that the prescriptions were likely fueling addictions, and that needless prescription of opioids could result in criminal prosecution.

The warnings to medical professionals emphasize the seriousness with which law enforcement views the opioid crisis.

The penalties for a conviction are serious, particularly for illegal sales and trafficking offenses.

It is not uncommon for people who have been convicted of selling pills to be sentenced to years in prison. Often criminal convictions for illegal opioid sales also lead to years of supervised probation after the time is served. Collateral consequences may include:

  • Difficulty finding employment
  • Restrictions on firearm ownership and use
  • Being ineligible for college financial aid
  • Being ineligible for other government programs, such as public housing

When the stakes include facing possible years in prison and a criminal record that could follow you for years to come, it only makes sense to seek legal guidance to minimize the negative effects of a charge.