Two years ago, Benzodiazepines unseated marijuana as the No. 2 substance cited in Alabama DUI arrests, according to AL.com.
It was at that time that the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency reported 29 percent of DUI arrests involve alprazolam, the generic term for the anti-anxiety medication Xanax. That is compared to 23 percent of Alabama DUI arrests made for suspicion of driving under the influence of marijuana.
These types of arrests have only continued to climb, as the use and abuse of prescription drugs has become increasingly prevalent. Benzodiazepines, or benzos for short, are a class of drug that depresses the central nervous system.
Today, the drug continues to cause problems for drivers.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration details this class of drugs may include:
- Alprazolam (Xanax)
- Lorazepam (Ativan)
- Clonazepam (Klonopin)
- Diazepam (Valium)
- Temazepam (Restoril)
There are others, but these are the type most commonly-prescribed and, according to the DEA, most commonly encountered on the illicit market.
However, as our Birmingham DUI defense attorneys can explain, whether the drug was obtained or used legally is actually of little consequence when it comes to a DUI. Alabama Code Title 32-5A-191 addresses driving under the influence of alcohol and/ controlled substances/ other substances. Specifically, a person violates the law when he or she is in physical control of any vehicle while either:
- Under the influence of a controlled substance to a degree which renders him or her incapable of safe driving;
- Under the influence of any substance that impairs the mental or physical faculties of a person to such a degree that he or she is incapable of driving safely.
Unlike with alcohol, which has a very clear statutory limit - i.e., 0.08 blood-alcohol concentration - there is no exact limit when it comes to driving under the influence of benzos or other substances. The determination of intoxication, at least at first blush, is up to law enforcement. But of course, police are not doctors or nurses, so their judgment on this issue may not be fool-proof.
Some law enforcement agencies have invested money in specially-trained officers called Drug Recognition Experts, or DREs. These officers may be called out to a scene to assess a driver who is suspected of being impaired by a substance other than alcohol. They will measure physiological symptoms, such as:
- Body temperature
- Pupil dilation
- Mental performance
Those within the program say that driving under the influence of prescription drugs isn't a new issue, but it is one that is worsening in several areas. Meanwhile, law enforcement agencies have increased the number of DREs to whom they have access.
Alprazolam is the most commonly-prescribed psychiatric medication and has been for more than a decade. It's estimated nearly 50 million prescriptions for the drug were issued in 2013 alone. To put that into perspective, there are 322 million people in the U.S. That means more than 15 percent of the U.S. population has a prescription for alprazolam. In Alabama, according to ProPublica, it's the 14th most-prescribed drug overall in the Medicare Part D program, with nearly 360,000 prescriptions written in one single recent year.
Criminal defense attorneys in these cases know there may be several approaches that may help formulate an effective defense. Consult with our lawyers for more information about how we can help mitigate the effect of these charges on your life.