25 Oct 2012

Yes, you could be charged and convicted of Driving While Intoxicated for taking regularly prescribed medications and even over the counter medications, whose side effects happen to make you “intoxicated” – even with zero alcohol in your system.

The Texas Penal Code in Section 49.04 reads:

DRIVING WHILE INTOXICATED.  (a)  A person commits an offense if the person is intoxicated while operating a motor vehicle in a public place.

(2)  ”Intoxicated” means:

(A)  not having the normal use of mental or physical faculties by reason of the introduction of alcohol, a controlled substance, a drug, a dangerous drug, a combination of two or more of those substances, or any other substance into the body;  or

(B)  having an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more.

Recently, a San Antonio flight attendant went on trial for intoxication assault for severely injuring an 18-month old child who was playing in her front yard with her mother and sister standing by.  The flight attendant admitted to drinking several glasses of wine (while she was at home) but then took 2 Ambien®[1] and went to bed.  She woke up on the floor of the jail cell not knowing what had happened or why she was there. She later found out that after she went to bed she got up, got in her car, still wearing her pajamas and no shoes, and drove recklessly running over the helpless toddler. When she was finally stopped by a police officer she was driving on the rims of her car because the tires had blown out.

Ambien, also known as Zolpidem, is a widely prescribed medication for insomnia.

Indeed, an excerpt from the 2008 FDA approved medication label for Ambien reads:  Complex behaviors such as “sleep-driving” (i.e., driving while not fully awake after ingestion of a sedative-hypnotic, with amnesia for the event) have been reported with sedative-hypnotics, including zolpidem. These events can occur in sedative-hypnotic-naive as well as in sedative-hypnotic-experienced persons. Although behaviors such as “sleep-driving” may occur with Ambien alone at therapeutic doses, the use of alcohol and other CNS depressants with Ambien appears to increase the risk of such behaviors, as does the use of Ambien at doses exceeding the maximum recommended dose. Due to the risk to the patient and the community, discontinuation of Ambien should be strongly considered for patients who report a “sleep-driving” episode. Other complex behaviors (e.g., preparing and eating food, making phone calls, or having sex) have been reported in patients who are not fully awake after taking a sedative-hypnotic. As with “sleep-driving”, patients usually do not remember these events. Amnesia, anxiety and other neuro-psychiatric symptoms may occur unpredictably.[2]