In February of this year, a New York criminal trial that might have otherwise remained a minor local story made national headlines because the defendant bears the Kennedy name. The prosecution alleged that Kerry Kennedy drove under the influence of prescription medication. Ms. Kennedy was acquitted of the drugged driving offense.
The Kennedy drugged driving trial highlights the complexities of an impaired driving case that involves the use of a prescription medication. No doubt Ms. Kennedy’s state posed a danger to herself and to others. She crashed her SUV into a tractor-trailer and continued to drive for miles before exiting the highway. She was found slumped over behind the wheel incoherent and confused — but miraculously nobody was seriously injured.
The defense attorney did not dispute that Ms. Kennedy was under the influence of sleep medication, but asserted that she accidentally took the medicine instead of her prescription thyroid drugs. The jurors found that she did not realize she was drugged and did not decide to drive under the influence of the medication.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that 48.5 percent of Americans took at least one prescription medication in the past month and identified painkillers and antidepressants as two of the most common types of prescribed medicines. With this high number of patients undergoing drug therapies, it is not hard to imagine the many drivers who may find themselves in a situation similar to Ms. Kennedy’s — unknowingly and unintentionally driving while impaired by a prescription drug.
The Ohio law protects patients from criminal prosecution for following doctors’ orders. The Ohio Revised Code 4511.19 contains the criminal provisions for operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs (OVI). The statute makes a clear exception for driving under the influence of prescription pharmaceuticals if the motorist:
Obtained the controlled substance through a prescription issued by a licensed medical provider who is authorized to prescribe medications
Injected, ingested or inhaled the prescription drugs as directed by a health professional