What Every Health Professional Should Know About Driving Under the Influence of Drugs in Michigan

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Nearly all providers prescribe substances that have an impact on their patients’ ability to drive. In addition, many health professionals themselves are prescribed controlled substances lawfully by their primary care physician.

However, prescribers give little thought to advising their patients about the implications of driving under the influence of controlled substances, and many prescribers are unaware of the serious consequences of using controlled substances while driving.

Recent Increase in Charges for Driving Under the Influence of Drugs

The federal and state governments have allocated an increased amount of funds to combat the “prescription drug epidemic.” A large portion of these funds are earmarked for training and resources to combat drugged driving, or driving under the influence of drugs.

Previously, prosecutors rarely charged individuals under the influence of prescription drugs (Hydrocodone, oxycodone, Xanax, etc.) with an offense. However, prosecutors are becoming more savvy in this area. As well, police officers, through increased training and resources, are arresting more citizens for driving under the influence of drugs.

Driving Under the Influence of Drugs Laws

There are three different driving under the influence of drugs laws with which you need to be concerned:

    1. Operating While Intoxicated (all controlled substances) under MCL 257.625(1)(a);
    2. Driving Under the Influence of Drugs (Schedule I drugs) under MCL 257.625(8); and
    3. Operating While Visibly Impaired.

Driving Under the Influence of Controlled Substances (DUI)

A person is operating while intoxicated if he or she drives under the influence of a controlled substance. Therefore, if you or a patient is substantially deprived of normal control or clarity of mind due to the ingestion of prescription drugs — even if lawfully prescribed — this could lead to being found guilty of a misdemeanor for driving under the influence of controlled substances.

Often, the police will take a blood test to determine the presence of prescription drugs. This blood test alone may be sufficient evidence to support a conviction for driving under the influence of controlled substances.

Robert Andretz, who handles criminal and regulatory matters at Chapman Law Group, talks about what happens when physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and other licensed healthcare professionals are charged with DUI/DWI/OWI — and the possible solutions when you have a healthcare-based criminal law attorney on your side.

Is a Valid Prescription a Defense?

Many people think not knowing their prescription would make them intoxicated is a defense. To rebut this, prosecutors often introduce drug labels and warnings as evidence in a case.

Labels for most controlled substances state that the patient should not ingest the substance while operating heavy machinery (read, “a motor vehicle”). In order to prove intent, the prosecution need not prove that the patient knew the drug would make them intoxicated, only that they ingested a controlled substance.

Often, the police will take a blood test, which will show metabolites of a controlled substance. The value of the metabolites in your system may correlate to the last use of the controlled substance and may lead to the inference that a defendant was impaired while driving. However, a skilled defense attorney will introduce evidence, if available, that the metabolites of the drug in the defendant’s system is not proof of last ingestion.

In order to rebut allegations of driving under the influence of controlled substances, an attorney skilled in toxicology and knowledgeable about the effects of drug interactions and prescription drugs will be necessary.

Operating While Visibly Impaired (OWVI)

To prove OWVI, the state does not need to prove the level of impairment under the operating while impaired statute. The state must only demonstrate that the defendant’s ability to drive was shown to be “so weakened or reduced by consumption of [controlled substances] that defendant drove with less ability than would an ordinary, careful and prudent driver.”

Here, the police must only show that the driving was visually impaired, which requires less proof than the operating while impaired statute. Basically, it is possible to be charged with OWVI based solely on the observations and opinion of the police officer.

What This Means for Prescribers and Their Patients

All too often, patients charged and convicted of DUI or OWVI were initially unaware that the presence of metabolites of controlled substances in their systems coupled with a visual impairment could lead to a criminal charge. Providers must be cognizant of this when adjusting dosages or attempting alternative therapies, and patients should be specifically advised on the adverse effects of taking prescribed substances.

What This Means for Licensed Health Professionals on Prescribed Controlled Substances

In addition, health care professionals licensed by the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) must be cautious of taking prescribed controlled substances and operating a vehicle, as the impact on a health care professional’s license from a conviction related to driving under the influence of controlled substances is severe.

In recent years, we have seen an increase in the number of doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and other licensed health professional who have faced disciplinary action against their nursing license, medical license and pharmacy license because of a DUI charge related to their driving while under prescribed controlled substances.

What You Can Do If You Face DUI or OWVI Charges

If you are licensed health care professional who is looking at DUI or OWVI charges, it is crucial that you retain an attorney who can immediately defend your freedom during your criminal case and also protect your livelihood during licensing proceedings.

We at Chapman Law Group specialize in health law, including defense for health professionals facing criminal charges and professional licensing issues. Our lawyers provide experienced, aggressive representation at the outset, to improve your chances of receiving a more favorable result in both criminal court and before your respective board. 

Contact us today so we may review your case.

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or Call us at: 1 (877) 234-5911

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Related Attorney

Robert J. Andretz

Senior Attorney

Professional Licensing & Regulatory Affairs,

Criminal Law

Michigan Office
1441 W. Long Lake Road, Suite 310
Troy, MI 48098
Phone: (248) 644-6326

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