Effective Jan. 1, driving under the influence of prescription drugs, over-the-counter drugs or any other banned substances is illegal in New Hampshire. The regulation is part of the state’s newly expanded DUI law which was signed last year by Gov. Lynch.
According to the New Hampshire Public Radio report, the change is aimed at addressing the growing prescription drug abuse problem in the state and the development of new substances, such as bath salts.
State Police Sgt. Matthew Shapiro, who works in the highway safety unit, said under the old law, people found to be grossly impaired by medications, such as certain muscle relaxants, could not be charged with driving under the influence. In April, he testified in favor of a bill that would enable law enforcement officials to take legal action against people caught driving under the influence of prescription drugs, over-the-counter medicines or other illicit substances.
“The cases that we’re dealing with are people who are clearly impaired, they’re under the influence, they have diminished mental capacity and physical capacity as a result of taking drugs that are impairing them,” Shapiro said.
But while Shapiro assured that the state has trained Drug Recognition Experts to help detect when someone is impaired by drugs, defense attorneys think the new DUI law is over-reaching. Attorney Dan Hynes, who specializes in DUI defense, predicts an increase in false arrests this year.
“I think it’s incredibly too broad and people taking prescription medications by a doctor may or may not know the effects of those medications,” Hynes explained. “I think it’s particularly difficult for police officers to determine whether someone’s under the influence of a certain drug.”