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In recent years there has been a sharp increase in the number of people who receive prescriptions for sleep medications such as Ambien, Lunesta, Sonata and Rozerem. Last year there were 26.5 million prescriptions filled for sleep aids as more and more patients rely on these medications. However, many people do not realize that these medications are extremely potent and driving while under the influence of these sleep medications can result in DUI charges. According to Los Angeles DUI defense law firm *** Law Group, even if the driver has a prescription for Ambien or another sleep medication, he or she can still be charged with driving under the influence of drugs in violation of California Vehicle Code Section 23152(e) if the drug is detected during a blood test.
Prescription sleep medications are intended to be taken only when an individual can dedicate at least eight hours to sleeping. However, many people take sleep medications late at night when they are dealing with insomnia or mix the sleep aid with alcohol or another intoxicating drug. If a person is still under the influence of a prescription sleep medication when driving, he or she may be pulled over by the police and ultimately investigated and charged with a DUI offense. Drivers who mix alcohol and prescription sleep medications can be charged with driving under the combined influence of drugs and alcohol in violation of California Vehicle Code Section 23152(f).
Officers are trained in recognizing the symptoms of someone who is under the influence of drugs. In addition, law enforcement agencies employ drug recognition expert (“DRE”) officers who are specially trained in recognizing and testing for drug impairment. When an officer suspects that a driver may be under the influence of a drug, a DRE officer will often be called to the scene of the arrest to evaluate the driver. If the driver shows signs of drug impairment, he or she will be taken to the police station or hospital and will be required to provide a blood sample for testing. Unlike alcohol, there is no breath test that can measure the presence or amount of drugs in a person’s system, so a blood test is required when a driver is suspected of being under the influence of drugs.
Some individuals who take prescribed sleep medications experience side effects that include involuntary actions while they sleeping. Some people on these medications have been known to sleepwalk or even cook entire meals while asleep and will have no memory of their actions when they wake up. In some cases, people have engaged in “sleep driving.” In 2007, the FDA required that drug manufacturers provide a warning about the “sleep driving” side effect on both the label on the pill bottle and in the medication instructions.
Courts have struggled with how to handle the issue of “sleep driving” and a recent California Court of Appeals decision indicates that a defendant can still be convicted of DUI even if he or she was “sleep driving.” Anyone taking prescribed sleep medications should be extremely careful when using these potent drugs.