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Anodyne

prescription drugs & driving

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Hi everyone, I'm just trying to work out the legalities of this. I'm on prescription medication which has the warning: May cause drowsiness and increase effects of alcohol. If affected do not drive a motor vehicle or operate heavy machinery. I understand that the manufacturers have to write this for arse-covering purposes. I understand that if I get into a crash while taking these meds, cops/insurance-lawyers will try to claim that I was impaired. My question is: would they win?

 

The RTA advises that you should play it safe and not drive while under the influence of any drug that contains that warning, but they also don't cite a specific law against it, so I gather that this is another arse-covering situation and that actual court battles are decided case-by-case. Because they also say wishy-washy stuff elsewhere to the effect that they're not doctors and maybe you'd be fine to drive on your meds, or that in some cases your ability could be more impaired by withdrawal, or by the symptoms that the meds treat, so in those cases then you should probably keep taking them, maybe ask your doctor...:rolleyes:


It seems to me that the most important part of that warning is the "if affected" bit. I take that to mean "if impaired", not "if under the influence of a drug". If I take this stuff every day and am accustomed to functioning on it, and do not get drowsiness as a side-effect, should I be ok to drive? (I mean legally speaking, if I actually thought I was impaired I just wouldn't be driving at all). People on methadone programs and such are allowed to keep their licences, aren't they? And if the condition I am taking it for might impair my driving ability more than the drug would, can I use that as an argument? Or are they just gonna say I shouldn't be behind the wheel at all?

 

Are there any pre-emptive steps I could take before it reaches the being-charged-for-manslaughter stage? Or is it better to just cross that bridge if I come to it? For instance, is there a way I can get a doctor's certificate to the RTA and have them assess whether or not I am actually impaired on these meds? I don't believe that I am, but I also understand that I'm not the best objective judge of this. Can we just get some driving tests that focus on actual impairment rather than drug levels in your bodily fluids already?! And if the medical certificate is something I can do, is it something that I should do, or will that just mean signing myself up for monthly medical assessments for the rest of my life if I want to keep my licence, in which case might I be better off just skipping all of that and just dealing with the legal hassles that would arise when/if I ever did get into an accident?

 

I don't expect that I'll get a neat answer on this, because I don't think there is one - so I am actually more interested in personal anecdotes, as that might give me a better idea of hows cops & insurance companies & traffic courts handle these cases. This is all kinda new to me so I appreciate any advice people can give here.

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I'll be damned, I was thinking about this yesterdays after arguing with some greek from melbourne about the massacre - she was saying that being high on anything and driving makes you a killing machine which is crap. 

 

One of the arguements was what about benzo-taking people? I suppose they drive all the time... 

 

I should check out our laws and check back. 

 

 

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My doctor says not to drive on the benzos he gives me. He said my insurance will be waived and so will my workcover if I am "affected" at work... all anecdotal tho sorry.

I've been told the same thing by a GP.

 

If you have it in your system, you will be assumed to be at fault in any accident you find yourself in.

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Dont cause an accident and preferably dont be involved in an accident where fault is ambiguous.  

 

IME accidents usually happen or nearly happen when you arent quit doing the right thing eg tired, distracted, hooning

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Okay, so is that benzoes only, or just anything with that warning? And I'm not trying to pry for personal details here, but it would help my understanding of this situation if I knew what the benzoes were being prescribed for when the doctors gave this warning.

 

Personally I equate benzoes to booze - where a very small dose might actually improve certain functions by reducing the impairment from anxiety, but that effect nosedives very quickly as the dose goes up. And since most benzoes are formulated at higher doses (relative to a <1.0 standard drinks equivalent) - because they are often prescribed for sleep issues and such where the actual point of "a dose" is to knock you out - so I don't consider the "no driving after taking your knockout drops" rule to be completely unreasonable. But if you were one of the rare people who is prescribed daily low-dose benzoes for crippling anxiety, would you still be treated just the same as someone who ate half the bottle?

 

I mean, I understand that lawyers will try to claim you're a dangerous drug fiend - that's their job. I get that. But as for whether the judge (with no pharmacology background, and working within a somewhat puritanical system of drug laws) would take that seriously, that I am less clear on. I am playing it safe for now, but this could turn out to be an issue long-term if I have to choose between meds and being able to drive on any given day.

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TI - ha, I live in inner city, IME accidents happen when you are on roads, this place is a shitfight of poor planning and streets designed for horses-and-carts that were never widened, and too many stressed people crammed into a small space. "Don't crash" is definitely my preferred option here. I could be lucky and it will never happen. But I'd be stupid to count on that.

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Ano - prescribed for manic occasions and anxiety. TBH I shouldn't be anywhere but home when I'm in that state, let alone work or a car... or at work driving people around or giving medication...

 

for this reason they barely get used unless it's assured I don't need to drive. (Edit : I just drop out caffeine rather than have benzos if I'm super manic)

 

FYI - I get the same warning for the endone and codeine I get prescribed for chronic pain. I'd honestly be contacting a few large insurance companies and the RTA to gain clarification. We both know GPs aren't good for that...!

Edited by theuserformallyknownasd00d
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I can't remember the flyer handed to my by my GP when I had three crashes (no injuries, only property), something like Moore's Law (but clearly not).

Basically, yes, it can be a problem if there's an incident and you are under the influence of anything, even if it's prescribed.

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This kind of thing blows my mind. I was prescribed quetiapine recently (which I refuse to take until I am confident that my condition wasn't drug-induced, the psych was saying 'we'll start you on this, then change to something with less side effects in a month and look into mood stabilisers' etc etc, which caused me to freak right the fuck out, in my eyes he was saying 'don't worry kid, we'll have you on a pension in no time!')

 

Anyway. The upshot was, up until recently I was a forklift driver right? Walking away from that mindfuck of an occupation already has me feeling better...

But yeah, let alone trying to drive to and from work (45 to an hour each way in ridiculously heavy traffic,) I was then supposed to go and drive this 3-ton machine, and if I fucked up (which is VERY VERY EASY when you're working under intense pressure all day every day,) it would automatically not just be my fault, but I'd be legally liable?

 

I seriously felt like I was in this fucking double bind situation, like, if I weren't such an obstinate hippie, I would have started taking those pills and automatically become a rolling liability. Especially once the psych ramped the cocktail up for real, introducing lithium/sodium valproate or whatever evil shit I was supposed to take... Makes me wonder how many people there are driving around on combos of meds that should automatically disqualify them from operating anything more technically complex than a pair of safety scissors.

 

I don't mean to cause offense to anyone who has no choice but to take psychiatric medication. Who knows, maybe it'll have to be me one day. Fucking hope not.

 

(Classic Tøn post-- sorta on topic, mostly not. I'm getting better I swear B))

Edited by Tøn

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I am not educated in law. The following is my understanding of how the system in this area works, based on the experience of a friend who was a defendant and a former friend who is a police prosecutor. I have done some research, especially into the constitutional legality of the legislations created and imposed by the corporate blubberment. I am unashamedly and unappologatically biased aginst the establishment because I perceive it to be itself biased and currupt.
 
I am, however, well read in psycho (neuro) pharmacology which is all about how substances interact with the brain and the effects on the body as whole, and developmental psychology (and to some extent psychological anthropolgy) which enlighten one to the processes lining the pathway to substance use. (I do not believe in the terms "addiction" or "substance abuse" because the former infers inherantly addictive substances, and poor choices or a flagrant disregard for socoety on behalf of the user, and the latter infers no illicit substance use has any medicinal basis). It is this knowledge which has emphasized to me the restrictive and manipulative nature of the legal system and the disasterous failure of the war on drugs which, combined, has helped shaped both public opinion and legislation in all areas relating to substance use.
 
Essentially, if you're involved in an incident which results in being tested and found to have any substance in your system (prescribed or illegal) which has the potential to cause impairment, you can and almost certainly will be charged. Regardless of whether you are impaired or at fault. If it is a positive saliva test as a result of a random stop, provided the follow-up blood test shows active substance levels below the minimum set by law, this should not result in charges.
 
Even though the legislation prescribes parameters prohibiting driving only whilst impaired, the legal system has essentially broadened it's scope to include the mere presence of a substance in order to address and prosecute the question of impairment.
 
There are no tests, invasive or passive, required by law enforcement to establish the level of impairment. (In fact, I know of NO test repeatedly and accurately capable of doing this, apart from the defendant being obviously intoxicated and displaying incoordination at the time. And a letter from a doctor or anyone else, if you could actually get one, will not help). This is despite not only the fact everybody is affected by and metabolizes drugs differently, but each time the effects of the substance on an individual can differ widely. Your level of impairment (tolerance) is never considered from a law enforcement perspective, on the face of it simply because this is not only too difficult for the police to establish, but because it is the job of the courts. The legal system will in no way attempt to ascertain individual tolerance, due to the varying nature of physiological and psychological responses resulting from the action of substances in the dynamic environment of the human body. From the legal perspective, tolerance cannot be established and is therefor not considered. 
 
If the substance is prescribed, the attitude you will face in court is one which expects you to be able to know whether you are impaired or not, and if you are unable to know, then proceeding to drive will mean you're committing an offence because it introduces reasonable doubt about your ablility to drive safely. This is not something you would expect an average person be qualified to accurately ascertain, each and every time they get behind the wheel. Given there is no one test which could give you the "all clear" regarding impairment, nor anyone to provide either test or clearance (for each and every time you wish to drive), and given the warnings on the medication, the legal expectation is that you do not drive. 
 
In essence what this does is place the burden of proof on the defendant, rather than the prosecution. Law enforcement have satisfied their brief and proven the presence of a drug thus, under this burden, you are required to prove you were not (or knew you were not) driving impaired. Unless you're clever about it, it is not not necessary for the court to prove you were (see the next paragraph). When a blood test clearly demonstrates the minimum level of an active substance, impairment is a given, regardless of tolerance. If the levels are below minimum but the case has, for whatever reason, proceeded to the court, the prosecution will always present an argument producing reasonable doubt about the defendant's ability to drive unaffected, especially in cases involving injury or death.
 
Because the burden of proof is on the defendant, reasonable doubt works for the prosecution.
 
One point to consider here regarding burden of proof: Most defendants when asked...
"Your drug test shows the presence of a substance which can impair your ability to drive; do you claim, or are you of the opinion you were not impaired?"
will most often automatically respond defensively with a statement in the affirmative, often under the advice of counsel. i.e.
"I believe I was not impaired."
This is only natural if we wish to defend ourselves, however it is this response as a statement which shifts the burden of proof to the defendant because a statement in court requires the one making it to provide the proof of the statement. If instead the defendant (or counsel) responds with a question, something like,
"Can the prosecution provide evidence the defendant was driving impaired?" or perhaps,
"If the prosecution believes the defendant was driving impaired and cannot offer proof of this, how can the court expect the defendant to prove he wasn't?"
it should shift the burden of proof from the defendant because it is asking a question, not making a statement, returning reasonable doubt back in favour of the defendant. In law it is important to never answer a question with a statement you cannot immediately backup with proof, or simply avoid making any statements at all. A very tall order for us mortal folk..
 
I have my doubts as to whether this example would actually get you anywhere, but I mention it because I believe it highlights how the system is able to work so well against us. We are ignorant of the language and grammar used in Legalese, the language of law.
 
 
Not that I have a great deal of respect for the source, but the argument at the end of the article linked below pretty much sums up our position (regarding driving and substance use) within the legal system and the attitude of those who run the legal system.
 

I love Asst Comm Hartley's response which equates the presence of drugs rather than the level of impairment with the cause of fatal accidents:
 
     Assistant Commissioner John Hartley of the Traffic and Highway Patrol Command, told Fairfax the tests were “a strong program aimed at deterring people who take illegal drugs from driving a motor vehicle”.
“Between 2010 and 2014, 14 per cent of all fatalities involved a driver or rider with an illegal drug in their system,” he said.
One in three tests this year has returned a positive test result in NSW alone, compared to one in 300 alcohol tests.
More than 30,000 roadside drug tests are carried out in NSW each year, with that number set to increase to 97,000 by 2017.
 
All this was a long-winded way of saying, "If you drive with illegal or prescription drugs (which can possibly cause impairment) in your system and you're caught, in my opinion 99% of the time you're gonna get fucked over". While I'm sure a percentage of police officers would not pursue charges if a random roadside blood test result showed below minimum levels of active substance (and it's not their call in the instance of an accident), I am not aware of anything the average person can do to protect themselves before they decide to drive, short of an education in Legalese, changing legislation or finding a way of successfully arguing the constitutional illegality of the legislation. You're placing yourself in the hands of a hostile system. Of course, a successful revolution would go a long way.....
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