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In Montana, DUI Means More Than Alcohol

Drinking and driving is a problem in Montana, which was recently reported as having one of the highest rates of drunk driving in the nation. Montana was listed as one of 10 states that reported rates of driving while using alcohol in excess of 17 percent. Neighboring states Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Nebraska also made the list. Yet alcohol is not the only problem when it comes to impaired drivers in Montana.

Driving under the influence (DUI) in Montana, like many other states, includes not only alcohol but also drugs, both prescription and illicit. Yet while most police officers know what to look for regarding alcohol use, they do not have the same degree of expertise with drug usage.

To solve this problem, the Helena Police Department has specifically trained drug recognition experts. Unlike alcohol, most drugs do not have a distinctive smell. Therefore, officers must rely on other less obvious signs. Testing a suspect's eyes is among one of the most important. Rapid involuntary movements of the eye (nystagmus), eyelid tremors, and pupil size are what drug recognition experts are primarily trained to look for. Body tremors may also be a symptom of drug impairment.

Police authorities warn that a drug does not have to be illegal for you to be arrested for driving under the influence. Medical marijuana and prescription drug users can still be arrested and prosecuted if they operate a motor vehicle while impaired. Producing a medical marijuana card will not prevent a DUI prosecution. Impairment due to alcohol or drugs results in the same penalties. Fines, jail time, mandatory substance abuse programs, license suspension and revocation, and ignition interlock devices can come into play for a DUI conviction.

Special caution should also be taken when using prescription drugs while using alcohol. Warning labels advising not to drive or use heavy machinery are there for a reason. Even if your prescription does not have a warning label, caution is required. The best rule is do not drive, regardless of whether your prescription has a warning not to use alcohol. The lack of a label will not save you from a DUI conviction.

For more information on this subject, go to: 

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration