Thursday, January 26, 2017

Ithaca DWI Lawyer: Do Opioids and Driving Equal DWAI?

Drugged Driving Can Lead to a DWAI
The reality of narcotic use and driving is far from the media in truth. There are millions of Americans who utilize prescription narcotics like hydrocodone and oxycodone for chronic pain. They are not addicts or using these medications recreationally. At a recent DUI conference in Tucson, AZ Dr. Fran Gengo, a pharmacologist related a story of two people using pain meds. One is Johnny, and the other is Johnny's grandma.

Now while Johnny uses grandma's pain pains to get high grandma has two medical conditions, spinal stenosis and degenerative joint disease. She takes her pills throughout the day on a schedule to moderate her discomfort. If Johnny and Johnny's grandma both drive who stands the greater chance of being DWAI drugs? If Johnny's grandma has a higher blood concentration of hydrocodone does that mean she is more impaired than Johnny?

New York State's DWAI Drug Law VTL 1192 (4) Makes Driving While Impaired by a Controlled Substance a Criminal Misdemeanor

In N.Y. Driving While Ability Impaired means that you are in fact "mentally and physically" impaired to drive a car safely.

In the real world the differences between Johnny and grandma are these:

Johnny is using a drug to get high, he is a recreational user. He will dose to get that effect, and will likely be impaired by that dose.

Grandma takes this drug regularly (on a schedule) for her chronic pain. Grandma has built a tolerance to the drug's effects. Even though grandma will see a higher overall concentration in her blood she is not likely to be impaired by her prescription medication.

Evidence of Drug Use is NOT Evidence of Drug Impairment

Both get pulled over by a police officer, they both may display the effects of drug use. They both may have pupil constriction, and an increased heart rate and blood pressure. But any failure of sobriety testing on the part of grandma is probably because of her orthopedic shoes and bad hip.

In the journal of psychopharmacology a study testing motor function and cognition following the use of hydrocodone bitartrate concluded that:

Using narcotics therapeutically does NOT cause lessening of mental function and only showed very transient decrements in some tasks involving hand and eye coordination.

Another psychopharmacology study in 2003 concluded that:

Long term analgesic medication, like hydrocodone (in stable doses) does NOT have psychomotor effects that would be clearly hazardous in traffic (driving).

In an American Journal, Drug Alcohol Addiction tested people driving while on their methadone. They recommended NO restriction of driving privileges where people were stable on a maintenance dosage of methadone. Methadone is similar in many respects to hydrocodone and heroin.

Recreational Use of Drugs versus Therapeutic Use in DWAI Drugs Cases

Most of the cases of New York DWAI drugs that we see and defend are with poly-drug use. This is where a person has consumed alcohol along with their prescription medication or has smoked marijuana with their prescription medication. Combining medications and drugs against doctor's orders and care is not a good idea for many reasons.

In some cases even taking your medication in ways it was not intended can lead to bad results. We have had people who chopped and snorted pills which should have been taken orally. Again and again we come back to what type of use was being made of the drugs.