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Opioid DUI in California

Opioids are strong narcotics that are generally prescribed as painkillers for patients suffering severe pain. These drugs have physical and mental effects that can make it more difficult to drive safely. Opioids can also be highly addictive and subject to abuse. Driving under the influence of drugs, including opioids, is against the law in California. It is important to understand California drugged DUI laws if you are ever pulled over or arrested for impaired driving. 

An experienced California DUI defense lawyer understands the laws and the science behind impaired driving charges. After an arrest for a drug DUI offense, make sure you understand your rights before pleading guilty. Contact East Bay criminal defense lawyer Lynn Gorelick today.

Opioid and Impaired Driving Penalties

The penalties for driving under the influence of opioids may be just as severe as a drunk driving charge. Most 1st-time drug DUIs are charged as misdemeanors. The penalties for a misdemeanor drug DUI can include: 

The penalties increase for a second impaired driving offense or third DUI within a 10-year period. A 4th DUI within 10 years can result in felony charges. If the driver does not have legal access to prescription opioids, they may also face criminal charges for drug possession or prescription forgery

Do Painkillers Impact Driving?

Opioids can have an effect on the mind and body. The effects may vary based on the individual, amount of drugs consumed, and other factors. Factors that may impact how a driver operates under the effects of oxycodone, fentanyl, or Percocet may include: 

  • Combination with other drugs
  • Use with alcohol
  • Size and weight of the individual
  • Time passed
  • Food consumption and hydration
  • Drowsiness
  • Tolerance

There is an increased risk of crash involvement with opioid drugs. Opioid drugs produce psychomotor impairment that can impact the ability to drive. The effects on the mind and body may include: 

  • Drowsiness
  • Impaired vision
  • Slower reaction time
  • Impaired judgment
  • Slowed reflexes
  • Difficulty concentrating

There are signs of possible opioid use that police officers look for during a traffic stop. This includes the performance of the standardized field sobriety tests (SFSTs). Generally, performance of the Walk-and-Turn Test and One-Leg Stand Test will be impaired, demonstrated by slow and deliberate movements. Using the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) Test, the individual may have little to no pupil reaction to light and neither horizontal nor vertical nystagmus.

Common Narcotic Analgesics 

Narcotic analgesics include both naturally derived and synthetic opioids. Opiates are drugs that are derived from the opium plant, a type of poppy. Synthetics have similar effects but are not derived from opium. Common narcotic analgesics include: 

  • Powdered opium
  • Morphine
  • Heroin
  • Codeine
  • Dilaudid
  • Hydrocodone 
  • Valium
  • Numorphan (Oxymorphone)
  • Oxycodone or OxyContin
  • Demerol
  • Fentanyl

Drug DUIs Under VC 23152

Under California Vehicle Code Section 23152(f), “it is unlawful for a person who is under the influence of any drug to drive a vehicle.” Under California VC 23152(g), “it is unlawful for a person who is under the combined influence of any alcoholic beverage and drug to drive a vehicle.”

Some people think they can drive after taking pain medication because it was prescribed by their doctor. However, drugged driving laws do not make a distinction between prescription drugs and street narcotics. Even over-the-counter medication can be considered a drug if it impairs the ability to drive. 

Under California Vehicle Code Section 312, a drug can include any “substance or combination of substances, other than alcohol, which could so affect the nervous system, brain, or muscles of a person as to impair, to an appreciable degree, his ability to drive a vehicle in the manner that an ordinarily prudent and cautious man, in full possession of his faculties, using reasonable care, would drive a similar vehicle under like conditions.”

Blood Tests for Opioids and Other Drugs

There is not currently an accepted roadside opioid test, like the preliminary alcohol screening device (PAS), that the police use during a traffic stop. If the police have probable cause to make an arrest based on observations of the driver, they will arrest the driver and take them to the police station for a blood test. 

Under California's implied consent laws, in exchange for driving privileges, drivers have given their implied consent to submit to chemical tests if they are arrested on suspicion of impaired driving. Blood test samples will be screened for a number of drugs and chemical substances, including: 

  • Alcohol level
  • Dissociative drugs (PCP and Ketamine)
  • Cannabis 
  • Stimulants  
  • Depressants 
  • Hallucinogens  
  • Narcotic analgesic 
  • Inhalants 

Drug DUI Defenses for East Bay Drivers 

Even after the effects of your prescription medication wore off, it may still show up in a blood test. A blood test that is positive for narcotic analgesics does not necessarily mean you were impaired. Talk to your DUI defense lawyer about your case and how to challenge the chemical drug tests.

East Bay attorney Lynn Gorelick has more than 37 years of DUI defense experience and understands how to approach each case for the greatest chance for success. Representing individuals in Alameda County and Contra Costa County, Lynn Gorelick is familiar with the local criminal laws, local officers, and the prosecutors involved. Contact East Bay DUI defense attorney Lynn Gorelick today.

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