By Assessments By Yount | May 22, 2012
Photo by: Donated DWI on prescription pills on the rise!

“But it was prescribed” is an increasingly common lament I hear in my work as an independent assessor for individuals charged with Driving While Impaired. Much attention has recently been in the media about prescription pill abuse with several truly tragic stories being at the forefront of our attention. Most of these stories have focused on the negative outcomes of prescription pill overdoses. Somewhat lost in the picture of prescription pill abuse has been the many incidents of individuals driving automobiles while taking legally prescribed impairing substances.

Having been in this field for some 35 plus years now, I’ve seen DWI charges based upon illegal drugs such as marijuana frequently. I’ve also seen, on a much less frequent basis in the past, DWI charges where an individual was taking prescribed medications and was operating their motor vehicle in an impaired manner.

Unlike standards and laws that set a specific point of impairment for everyone where alcohol is concerned, illegal drugs and prescription drugs do not have the same set points where EVERYONE is presumed to be guilty of impaired driving. There are drug tests, which certainly show the presence of an impairing substance and even methods by which the level of drug in a person’s system can be shown to be within or without of the therapeutic range. As you might imagine, these are quite costly tests to be run and, again, no legal standard is set as to what is “too much.” It comes down to the quality of the facts presented by the prosecutor and the finding of fact by judge and jury when determining guilt.

Once found guilty, the punishments for Driving While Impaired due to prescription pill abuse are similar to the Driving While Impaired punishments for alcohol. Assessment and intervention are required in order to again receive driving privileges after the period of revocation is over.

During the assessment phase, the lament goes as follows, “but my doctor prescribed the medicine at that level and I was just following my doctor’s orders.” This rationalization fails to recognize that virtually all psychoactive or mood altering drugs come with a warning not to operate a motor vehicle as the substance is likely to impair the person’s ability to safely operate a motor vehicle or heavy equipment. Heck, sometimes operating a computer keyboard is a trick for people impaired on their medications! The rationalization of the lament fails to affix personal responsibility for the decision to operate a motor vehicle while impaired upon the defendant and attempts to move responsibility to the prescribing physician.

Also, often left out of the lament, is the fact that officers at license check points note the slurred speech of an “over using” individual, the pinpoint pupils of others, or the inability of the drug impaired individual to follow simple commands such as “please show me your license.”  Of course, there are the incidents where actual wrecks occur resulting in property damage and, worse, personal injury or death.

Prescribed medicines such as Xanax, Klonopin, and the pain killers work on similar centers of the brain in similar fashions as does alcohol. At this point, impairment is impairment is impairment and the pedestrian, the bicyclist, the motorcyclist, other motorists, and children playing in yards near highways are just as much in danger from the prescribed drug impaired driver as from the alcohol impaired driver.

As a society that is auto-centric, i.e., we put cars first, we often excuse the behavior of others such as driving while impaired on prescription medicine because the person “needed” to get to the grocery store, they were “just” going to their doctor, they “had” to take their kids to school, etc. We fail, as a society, to expect our fellow citizens to find other methods of transportation to achieve their goals. There are other means of transportation. Yes, they require some planning and forethought but, they are available.

A day’s notice to Haywood Public Transit will get you a ride to the grocery store, to your doctor, uptown for a latte if needed. In an increasingly expensive gasoline world, that $2.00 to get to town via Haywood Public Transit seems pretty cheap! Many churches offer ministries that help individuals get to necessary meetings and appointments. Need a ride to A.A. or N.A.? Get to a meeting once and ask for assistance and I’m confident someone will offer a ride to the next meeting? Got a neighbor with a car? Offer to buy them some gas for a ride. It is MUCH cheaper than the fines/fees/treatment costs after getting convicted of DWI charges!

I recall many years ago my uncle had a heart attack resulting in an automobile accident and the thought that he might have killed someone scared him so badly he gave his car away. Part of the deal was that the recipient of the car had to take him to the grocery store once a week. It was a win-win situation. He walked most other places because Waynesville is an imminently walkable community as are Canton, Clyde, and Maggie. You CAN get there from here without driving!

If you are abusing your prescribed medications, help is available. Talk with your doctor, call one of the many 1-800 hotlines available, contact a counselor trained in Addictions. Whatever you do, please don’t pilot a 2 ton missile down the streets and byways of our community! Remember, the life you save might be:  Your daughter, your son, your parent, your grandparent, your neighbor, your minister, someone you don’t even know.

For more information or for help, contact Cecil Yount at Barrett & Yount, 66 Walnut St., Waynesville. Yount is a Licensed Clinical Addictions Specialist with 35+ years of experience in the field of Addictions and Family Therapy. He may be contacted at http://www.assessmentsbyyount.org/ or 828-454-5253.

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