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How Cops Determine Drug Impairment


Law enforcement agents across the country continue to see an increase of drug-impaired drivers behind the wheel. It’s no different in Arizona. And even though the use of marijuana is on the rise, what many officers are dealing with are drivers who are under the influence of prescription drugs such as oxycodone and fentanyl. This can lead to awkward situations where officers must be able to recognize the difference between drug impairment and medical issues.

Some police departments have even gone so far as to create “drug recognition evaluator” positions, where an experienced agent is in charge of educating and training others on the signs of drug impairment. Without this training, some police officers wouldn’t know what to look for.

In many cases, the drivers they encounter aren’t necessarily high on street drugs such as marijuana, but have simply taken too much of their prescribed medication. It could be that they aren’t feeling well and decided to take an extra pill as they head out the door for work. A person may have a legitimate prescription for pain medication, but once they decide to take more than the prescription calls for and get behind the wheel, they can become a threat to other people on the road.

Arizona laws state that being in physical control of a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or any drug is a violation of the law. It doesn’t matter how much of the drug was taken. Prescription drugs lead to gray areas as officers work to determine how much was taken, what the prescription was for, who it was prescribed to and if it has expired.

For the most part, officers will use field sobriety tests to determine if a person is under the influence while driving. They will always look for unusual behavior, such as how the person handles the vehicle, their response time once they realize they are being pulled over and the driver’s overall demeanor as they interact with the officer. They’ll pay close attention to the driver’s eyes for signs of intoxication. From there, officers will typically use balance and walking tests to get a better idea of whether the driver is under the influence.

Drivers in Arizona should remember their rights when they are pulled over for possible DUI. Remember that you are not required by law to answer any questions or submit to any tests. Keep in mind that even answering basic questions can give law enforcement agents the evidence they need to move on to further testing. This might include blood and urine tests where even traces of prescription drugs taken weeks before can show up.

When facing DUI charges for alcohol, drugs or prescription drugs, it’s best to contact an attorney as soon as possible. DUI attorney Charlie Naegle has experience dealing with these types of cases and understands what procedures to take in order to have the charges dropped or lessened. For more information or a free consultation, give Naegle & Crider Criminal Defense Attorneys a call today.

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