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Driving Under the Influence of OTC Drugs

Over-the-counter (OTC) drugs are safe when used as directed - and legal, too. Yet, it is a criminal offense in all states to drive a vehicle while under the influence of drugs - even OTC medications - if there is evidence of impairment resulting from the use of the drug.

It may sound surprising that OTC medications can cause effects severe enough to impair driving ability. But they can, even if they are used as directed on the label, especially when taken in excess or used in combination with other drugs or alcohol. Some of the drugs that can contribute to hazardous driving include pain pills, diet pills, sleeping pills, and cough and cold formulas.

What kind of physical effects occur as a result of OTC drug use? Drug effects vary by individual, depending on the person's history of drug use (chronic user or occasional or first time user), individual sensitivity to and tolerance for the drug, and metabolism. In general though, OTC drugs can impair abilities that are essential for safely operating a motor vehicle, such as: coordination, reaction time, judgment, attention, mental acuity, and critical thinking.

Penalties for driving under the influence of drugs typically include driver's license suspension or revocation, mandatory drug/alcohol evaluation and rehabilitation, community service, probation, and possibly incarceration. Increasingly, drug offenses can even exclude teens from receiving scholarships or attending the college of their choice.