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DUI Charges: A Look at Sleep Medications

April 25, 2016 • DUI Defense

Sleep medications are commonly prescribed. Unfortunately, these medications can be dangerous if drivers take them and then get behind the wheel of a motor vehicle.  Sleep meds can be a problem, particularly if motorists take drugs like Ambien, which has been shown to cause sleep driving according to the Washington Post.  Sleeping pills can also cause driving issues if the medication has not yet fully worn off before the driver gets behind the wheel of a vehicle.

Sleep medications are considered drugs -- albeit legal ones -- and this means that a driver who is operating a vehicle after taking sleep medication could potentially be held liable for impaired driving. However, whether you could be convicted of driving under the influence after taking sleeping pills is going to depend upon the circumstances. Tallahassee DUI attorneys can help you argue against a conviction so you can fight serious charges that could leave behind a damaging criminal record.

Sleep Medications & DUI

Recently, Fox News reported on research that showed some of the dangers associated with sleep medications and driving. Researchers focused on older drivers, looking at a study of 2,000 drivers age 70 or older. Drivers provided information on their gender, race, retirement status, marital status, current and past occupation, alcohol and tobacco use and medications they were taking.  Among the drivers who responded to the survey, approximately four percent were using Zolpidem, which is a generic version of Ambien.

Researchers then reviewed accident reports over the past five years to see if there was any link between people taking Zolpidem and an increased risk of accidents. The research found that among women, Zolpidem users were 61 percent more likely to become involved in car accidents. Older drivers were also at greater risk. Among those over 80 years old who were using Zolpidem, the risk of a motor vehicle accident over the prior five years was twice that of those not on sleep medications.

The fact that more women than men seem to be at risk may be explained by the fact that men and women take the same dosage of Zolpidem. Women, who generally are smaller than men, thus tend to have higher concentrations of the sleeping pill in their blood.

When Zolpidem use affects the way a driver operates his or vehicle, the driver could be pulled over. If there is probable cause to suspect impairment, a toxicology test may be performed to determine if the driver was under the influence of drugs or alcohol. If a driver who has taken Zolpidem causes a crash to occur, a toxicology test may be performed after the accident to determine if the driver was drunk or on drugs at the time of the collision.

If the test reveals Zolpidem in the blood stream, it may be possible that the driver who took the sleeping pills will face charges. Florida Statute § 316.193 indicates a person can be considered guilty of DUI in Florida for having a blood alcohol concentration of .08 or higher, but also for being under the influence of a chemical substance or controlled substance.  Neither Zolpidem nor Ambien are listed as controlled substances in Florida Statute 893.03. Still, prosecutors could try to bring charges against you for being impaired by the drugs.  DUI attorneys can help you fight these charges to try to ensure you do not face conviction for a serious offense simply due to sleeping pill use.