Can Medications Affect DUI Tests? - Sand Law North Dakota
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Can Medications Affect DUI Tests?

13th May 2020

A DUI conviction can have many long-term implications. So how do you ensure that you don’t have a false positive on a breathalyzer test?

According to the law, North Dakota drivers should never have a blood alcohol concentration above .08 percent. When they suspect drivers are operating vehicles above the legal BAC, law enforcement officers often administer breath tests.

Breathalyzers are generally an effective tool for keeping our roads safe. However, certain medications and inadequate testing methods can interfere with BAC readings.

Testing in North Dakota DUI Cases

In the Birchfield v. North Dakota case of 2016, the Supreme Court ruled that the requirement of blood tests to determine a suspect’s BAC is a violation of constitutional rights. Blood tests require a warrant.

However, the Supreme Court ruled differently on breath tests since they are less intrusive. Law enforcement are able to administer breath tests to potentially intoxicated drivers without a warrant.

The Birchfield v. North Dakota case influenced the outcome of subsequent cases like State v. Helm. The Helm case upheld that drivers can’t be prosecuted for refusing a urine test without a warrant.

Using Prescription Medications While Driving

Most medicines do not impair your ability to drive. However, some prescription drugs and over the counter medicines can cause reactions that make driving unsafe.

Some common medicinal side effects are similar to the effects of drinking alcohol or abusing drugs. For example, those who take pills for legitimate reasons can still experience drowsiness, blurred vision, slowed movement, a lack of focus, and fainting among other adverse reactions.

These side effects can greatly impair response time and prevent drivers from noticing obstacles on the road. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration advises people who take medication to be aware of the side effects before getting behind the wheel.

How Prescription Medications Affect Field Sobriety Tests

During a standard field sobriety test, drivers who are suspected of being intoxicated are put through a series of three physical tests.

The horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) checks the involuntary jerking of the eyes, a movement that is pronounced when a person is under the influence. Common medications, for example, pills that treat epilepsy and psychosis, can cause eye twitching that an officer may misread as a sign of intoxication.

In the one-leg stand, the suspects keep their hands by their side while raising one leg six inches from the ground. During the walk and turn test, suspects walk a straight line by taking nine heel to toe steps. Blood pressure medication, antidepressants, and anti-seizure medications are among prescription drugs that can affect balance during those tests.

Medications that Can Impact DUI Breath Tests

Even responsible drinkers and motorists who don’t consume alcohol or illicit drugs at all can be cast in a bad light because of a false positive.

Asthma Medications

Albuterol, salmeterol, and budesonide are asthma medications that researchers have shown can produce false positives in breath tests. Once these medicines are inhaled, they stay in the system longer than other medicines. If you use an inhaler before taking the BAC test, you could test positive or close to the limit.

Over the Counter Medications

Cold and sleep aids like Nyquil, certain Vicks products, and other OTC medications contain alcohol. If you have a cold and have taken these or similar medications, your test could show a considerable amount of alcohol.

Some brands of cough drops also contain alcohol. Typically, it is a small quantity. However, if you have been constantly using them to alleviate symptoms, you could test positive in a breath test.

Oral Pain Relievers

Oral gels that are used to treat pains from canker sores and toothaches generally contain anbesol, a local anesthetic. Anbesol contains 60% alcohol, so oral gels can distort breathalyzer results.

Mouth Washes and Breath Sprays

Many breath fresheners like mouthwashes and breath sprays contain alcohol. When used as intended, these products don’t cause intoxication. However, they can trigger results over the legal limit on a BAC test.

Dental Work

Many types of denture adhesives can trap alcohol in someone’s mouth and this can cause a false high BAC reading on a breathalyzer machine. Also, dental bridges and dental caps can trap alcohol in crevices, creating misleading BAC results.

Gastro Disorders

If you suffer from acid reflux, you know that the acidic contents of your stomach make their way back to your esophagus and mouth. Those contents include alcohol. Even trace amounts from a bout of acid reflux can make you appear to have consumed alcohol beyond the legal limit.

High Ketone Levels

On a BAC test, a person with diabetes can show a high reading because of high blood sugar. When the body does not produce the right levels of insulin, the cells burn fat instead of glucose increasing the ketones in the body.

In turn, excess ketones lead to acetone in the breath which can throw off a BAC test. Additionally, dieters who have significantly reduced their carbohydrate intake generally have a higher level of ketones in their bodies. They’re also at risk for inaccurately high BAC results.

Exposure to Fumes

Occupational exposure to fumes can lead to extremely high results on a BAC test.

If you have been working with paints or fuels in an area that does not have good ventilation, you may have a false positive reading on a BAC test.

Contact a North Dakota DUI Attorney to Discuss Your Legal Options

A DUI does not have to ruin your driving record. If you were issued a citation for DUI and tested above the legal limit, speak with a DUI attorney about your options.

The legal team at Sand Law has many years of experience in defending DUI cases and we will work diligently to get you the best results for your case. Contact us online or call us at 701-609-1510.