Whether it’s cold medicine, cough syrup, a legal prescription drug or alcohol, if you ingest too much and drive a vehicle, you can be charged with driving under the influence.
“Even if someone is taking prescription drugs legally, they can be charged with DUI,” said Sgt. Kim Montes, spokeswoman for the Florida Highway Patrol district that includes Volusia County. “If a trooper evaluates someone, either on a traffic stop or at a crash scene, and determines they are impaired from alcohol, illegal or legal drugs, or another substance, they can be arrested.”
The FHP recently charged a man with DUI manslaughter in an Orlando case because they believe he had inhaled computer cleaner, Montes said.
Toxicology reports, which reveal the presence of substances in the blood that can lead to impairment, can take several months to complete, said FHP Lt. Bill Leeper. He noted authorities are awaiting toxicology results in at least one Flagler County crash involving serious injuries.
The Friends Drive Sober organization devotes a section of its website to prescription and over-the-counter drugs and their effect on drivers.
“Drugs impair our bodies in a variety of ways,” the site reads. “They may blur our vision; make us tired or too excited; alter depth perception; make us see or hear things that may not be there; raise or lower blood pressure; react too quickly, too slowly, or not at all. They cause problems with concentrating on the task at hand.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention specifically lists cough and cold medications containing dextromethorphan as one of the most commonly misused over-the-counter drugs, “to get high.”
“The pivotal issue when it comes to controlled substances is impairment,” said Chris Kelly, spokesman for the State Attorney’s Office.
The short answer, he said, as to whether a person is guilty of driving under the influence depends on two things: the impaired individual is in control of the vehicle and, per state statute, “that the person’s normal faculties are impaired.”
It’s up to the discretion of law enforcement to determine whether a driver should undergo testing and whether a breath or blood test is requested.
“If we have an idea of what types of drugs they may be taking, then we can ask for that drug to be specifically tested,” Montes said.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement runs a panel for all controlled substances when blood is drawn, said spokeswoman Susie Murphy.
“We don’t typically test for huffing (inhaled) agents,” Murphy said. “We don’t test for over-the-counter drugs at all.”
But that doesn’t mean a person can’t be charged with DUI for taking over-the-counter medication.
“If someone were to ingest enough over-the-counter medicine, they could also be arrested for DUI if it is determined that they are impaired,” Montes said.