Prescription Drugs And DWI In North Carolina: What You Should Know


In 2013, a North Carolina mayor was pulled over on suspicion of driving while intoxicated. According to ABC News Channel 12, the man said he had taken one milligram of Xanax, an anti-anxiety medication, 12 hours earlier. He did not have any alcohol in his system. He was arrested and later convicted on charges of reckless driving, DWI and child abuse, as his children were in the vehicle.

The man, who is no longer a mayor, challenged North Carolina’s zero tolerance policy toward driving while using prescription drugs. Anyone who takes medications should understand what the law says and how to remain safe on the road.

What is the North Carolina law?

State law holds that no one is permitted to drive while under the influence of alcohol, an impairing substance or any amount of a substance categorized as Schedule I. With alcohol, the law clearly defines that someone’s blood alcohol concentration may not be at or above 0.08. The law does not establish a threshold for other substances, including prescription drugs, which means someone who has any trace of a drug could face charges.

What is considered an “impairing substance”?

In the North Carolina code, it states that an impairing substance is considered to be a controlled substance, alcohol or any other drug or substance that could impair someone’s physical or mental capability. Any number of medications could be considered impairing, such as the following:

  • Anxiety medications
  • Cough and cold medicines
  • Drugs to treat pain

Unfortunately, these medications can cause drowsiness, dizziness and irritability, to name a few side effects. Though everyone may respond differently to them, they are still considered to be an impairing substance.

Can I take my prescription medications and drive?

Many people may not know how they will react to a substance. Speaking with a physician can help someone understand the potential side effects and whether or not a certain prescription could impair driving.

What are the sentences for a prescription drug DWI?

Typically, prescription drug DWI sentences follow the same guides as an alcohol-related DWI. A judge will take into account any aggravating factors, such has having a child in the car, having previous DWI convictions or causing an accident. The judge can also weight mitigating factors, such as having a clean driving record and if the person’s impairment was due to a lawfully prescribed drug that was taken in the correct dosage.

A sentence for a DWI can include time in prison, fine and a loss of a driving license. Anyone who has concerns about charges such as these should contact a criminal defense attorney immediately.