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How your prescriptions can lead to an OWI charge

When most people think of driving while under the influence, they first think of drunk driving. However, many do not realize the government might attempt to prosecute you for driving while taking prescription drugs. Because of Iowa's broad approach to controlled substances, those taking prescription medications can find themselves unfairly charged. 

Iowa's broad rules on controlled substances

Iowa's laws on operating a vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol (OWI) are particularly strict. Under Iowa Code Section 321J.2(1)(c), someone can be charged with an OWI for driving "while any amount of a controlled substance is present." Many substances someone might be prescribed appear on Iowa's list of "controlled substances," such as oxycodone or medical marijuana.

The problem for many people is, under this rule, the prosecution does not have to prove the prescription actually impaired your ability to drive.

However, even if the police find a controlled substance in your urine or blood test - you still have options.

Prescription drug affirmative defense

Someone with a prescription for a controlled substance can assert their prescription use as an affirmative defense against an OWI charge. To do this, you would show that you have a prescription for the controlled substance present in your system and that you were taking it according to the instructions from your doctor and the pharmacy.

What prescriptions might impair my driving?

The side effects of some prescriptions, like drowsiness or blurred vision, can impact your ability to drive. According to the FDA, some types of prescription drugs are more likely to impair driving, including:

  • Ephedrine and other "stay awake" drugs
  • Anxiety medications
  • Some antidepressants
  • Products containing codeine
  • Pain relievers
  • Sleep aids
  • Some cold or allergy medicines

Interestingly, many stimulants can cause either excitability or drowsiness, both of which can cause problems while driving.

Talk to your doctor about whether your prescriptions might impair your ability to drive. And if you find yourself facing an OWI charge, call an Iowa criminal defense attorney right away.

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