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Yes, Police Can Charge You with DUI in Canada Based on Prescription Drug Usage

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According to the latest Statistics Canada data , Canadian police charged 3,339 motorists with driving under the influence (DUI) of drugs in 2022. Of this number, Ontario police were responsible for 1,126 of the arrests, while Toronto police arrested 283. These numbers are significantly down from 2021 DUI by drug arrest numbers but still more than 60% higher than the number of arrests police made in 2017, the year before Canada legalized recreational marijuana use.

The legalization of cannabis is obviously helping drive the increase in DUI by drug arrests. However, the growth can also be attributed to a significant boost in enforcement efforts by police. The number of police officers certified as drug recognition experts (DREs) has grown significantly, and the number of DRE evaluations conducted annually has almost doubled since 2018. Police agencies nationwide are also starting to acquire and use approved drug screening equipment (ADSE).

While impairment by cannabis and other recreational drugs is the primary focus of these enhanced enforcement efforts, you might be surprised to learn that drivers who may be impaired by prescription and/or over-the-counter drugs are targeted too. In fact, a conviction for drug-impaired driving based on prescription or over-the-counter medications has the same severe penalties as any other DUI conviction. With this in mind, the criminal defence DUI lawyers at Toronto’s Mass Tsang LLP suggest you keep reading as we further examine Canada’s medication-based DUI laws.

Reasons Why Medication-Based Impaired Driving is Illegal

“The percentage of Canadian drivers killed in vehicle crashes who test positive for drugs now exceeds the number who test positive for alcohol,” according to a recent Canadian Government notice on drug-impaired driving. We could not find any recent data indicating what percentage of these fatalities may have been caused by legal mediations. However, the Province of Saskatchewan’s Coroners Service reported that of 49 driver fatalities in 2018, toxicology reports indicated that 47% had intoxicating amounts of prescription drugs in their systems. According to the Annual National Data Report to Inform Trends and Patterns in Drug-Impaired Driving 2022 , 26,3% of injured drivers tested between 2018 and 2021 had impairing amounts of sedating medications in their systems.

In short, medication-based impaired driving is illegal because some prescription and over-the-counter drugs can cause the same type of impairment as alcohol and illicit drugs. Such medications can impair a motorist’s ability to safely drive by causing:

  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Delayed reactions
  • Misjudgement of time and distances
  • Decreased coordination
  • Blurry vision
  • Impaired cognitive functioning
  • Euphoria

Prescription opioid-based drugs, sedatives, stimulants, heart medications, and some over-the-counter sleeping medicines and antihistamines are most likely to cause impairment. Over-the-counter cough and gastrointestinal medications can also prove impairing when dosages are exceeded. Any mixing of alcohol with such medications significantly increases the likelihood of impairment-related symptoms. And older drivers face the greatest risk of medication-based impairment, according to the Canada Safety Council. Those over 65 tend to be on numerous medications, with some drug combinations likely to produce side effects and bad reactions that can prove impairing. Any medication-based impairment is likely to last longer due to slower metabolisms, and seniors are more likely to take too much of a given medication accidentally.

Potential Impacts of Medication-Based Impaired Driving

From a safety perspective, driving while impaired by medication is dangerous. No matter what causes the impairment, impaired driving is a leading cause of fatal and injury-causing traffic accidents. Thus, to keep safe, read the warning labels on all medications and follow the recommended dosages. If the label warns against operating machinery or driving motor vehicles while taking the drug, heed it.

From a legal standpoint, if you’re charged and convicted of medication-based DUI, you’re going to be in a world of government-mandated aggravation and financial pain. DUI penalties are the same for medication-based impairment as they are for alcohol or recreational drug DUI, though absent the mandatory use of an ignition interlock system upon license reinstatement. Minimum penalties and other potential negative impacts for a first-time medication-based DUI include:

  • Minimum one-year license suspension ($281 fee for license reinstatement).
  • Mandatory medical evaluation to assess driving fitness.
  • Likely vehicle impoundment.
  • $1,000 fine.
  • Mandatory participation in Ontario’s “Back on Track” education/treatment program as a condition of license reinstatement.
  • Subject to at least five years of expensive “high-risk driver” insurance premiums after license reinstatement.
  • Potential impacts on your current employment, educational opportunities, future career, and ability to travel internationally.
  • A criminal record.

Defending Medication-Based DUI Charges

If you’ve been arrested in the Greater Toronto Area for a medication-based DUI, seek out the services of an experienced DUI lawyer who can strategize a viable defence. While you may think that having a prescription or treating an ailment justifies the drugs being in your system, it will not justify your alleged impairment in court.

Criminal defence DUI lawyers have numerous tactics they can use to mount an effective defence in medication-related DUIs because the basis for the arrest tends to be more subjective than that of alcohol-related arrests. The Crown must prove that your driving was impaired and that the medications used can cause impairment at the alleged dosages taken. The subjective opinions of a DRE evaluation are open to a broad range of challenges, and blood sample testing can be challenged if a DRE or standard field sobriety testing did not warrant the grounds for ordering them. Roadside ADSE results are also subject to legal challenges because they have not yet established reliability to the level of roadside alcohol testing devices and breathalyzers.

Turn to Mass Tsang for Your Medication-Based DUI Defence

If you are arrested for DUI, you should always seek the best criminal defence possible to secure an acquittal or another favourable outcome. The subjective nature of medication-based DUI charges in Ontario provides numerous options for mounting a robust, effective defence. Mass Tsang DUI criminal defence lawyers have a decades-long history of mounting defences that secure withdrawn charges, dismissals, acquittals, and other favourable outcomes. Contact Mass Tsang Today to learn more.

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