The media has reported a rise in the number of prescription drug DUI arrests in recent months. It is important to know that if you take a prescription drug which impairs your ability to drive you can be charged and convicted of a DUI just as much as if you were drinking and driving under the influence of alcohol. With that in mind, millions of us take a popular sleep aid, Ambien.
If you drive your vehicle after taking Ambien and the Ambien has not made it’s way out of your system, you run the risk of being charged with DUI. I recently had a client who had taken Ambien and intended to go to sleep. However, instead of going to sleep, he drove his vehicle to a nearby shopping center and got into a collision. He was arrested for DUI and put into jail. Six hours later he was released from jail while still under the influence. Unfortunately, the cab driver took him back to his car and he attempted to drive home. Of course, he didn’t make it out of the parking lot before he collided with… the cab. The same police officer who had arrested him the first time came to the scene and was surprised he was out of jail because he was still clearly impaired by the Ambien. The client was arrested again and faced not one but two DUI charges.
How to defend a charge of DUI under these circumstances? It was difficult but not impossible. A little publicized fact about Ambien is that out of the approximately 26 million prescriptions that are written every year for Ambien approximately 1% of the people who take it have an adverse reaction. Ambien can cause a person to engage in complex behaviors such as: sleep walking, sleep sex, and sleep driving. These complex activities occur when the person is not unconscious but in an altered state of consciousness. To top it off, Ambien comes with an amnesic affect. That is, the person who does these activities has no memory of it. People have had sex, walked to various locations and even sleep driven and when they woke up they had no memory of their actions.
My client did not recall anything about his driving. In investigating his medical condition I discovered he had difficulty metabolizing Ambien and it stayed in his system much longer than normal. In fact, it built up over time to the point that he suffered from an intoxicating level that would not leave his system for many hours. At trial the jury learned from an expert of the unforeseeable side effects of Ambien and the frequency of adverse reactions. If you do the math, 1% of 26 million is 26,000. That means 26 thousand people who take their prescribed Ambien suffer one of the above side effects. My client was one of these people.
The jury heard the evidence of his decreased medical condition, his intent to go to sleep and not to drive and that he was unaware of such wild adverse side effects to Ambien. The jury found my client not guilty on both charges of DUI.
Taking Ambien is fine for most people. But, if you have taken Ambien and been charged with DUI you should not just plead guilty. There is hope. Get yourself the best criminal defense attorney you can find who is knowledgeable about the unique issues associated with Ambien and fight.