What the Opioid Epidemic Means for Massachusetts DUI Law

The opioid epidemic is one of the deadliest drug overdose crises in U.S. history. It affects every state, including Massachusetts. An estimated 2,107 people died from opioids in Massachusetts in 2016.

Opioids are substances that act on opioid receptors in the brain, producing morphine-like effects. They are commonly used to treat acute pain in patients while they are in hospitals or under the supervision of a doctor. Both prescription opioids and street opioids like heroin can be abused to produce euphoria or a “high”. It common for prescription medication to be used and sold illicitly. Opioids are also highly addictive.

Although policy changes may occur at every level of government because of this epidemic, it will likely do little to change DUI law in Massachusetts itself. It is already illegal to drive while under the influence of opioids in Massachusetts. However, it may affect the way the law is enforced. Police may handle drivers differently if they suspect they are under the influence of opioids.

Police are now more aware of the epidemic’s impact on their communities. Many police officers now carry Naloxone, a fast-acting drug that treats an overdose, in order to save lives. Because of the statistics alone, police are also more likely to suspect suspicious drivers of being under the influence of such drugs if there is no indication that they have been drinking.

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Drugged Driving Laws in Massachusetts

In Massachusetts, it is illegal to drive while under the influence of any drug described in chapter 90, section 24 of Massachusetts General Law. This includes opioids, even if they are prescribed by a doctor.

If you have been charged with OUI for any reason, contact a Massachusetts DUI attorney so they can review your case. Police will usually attempt to charge you with OUI alcohol before they bring OUI drugs charges. OUI drugs cases are more difficult for the government to prosecute. There are a number of reasons for this:

  • Field sobriety tests are designed to detect alcohol impairment.

Field sobriety tests like the “walk and turn” and the “one-leg stand” are intended to reveal evidence of alcohol impairment, not necessarily impairment from drugs. These tests are notoriously difficult, but a person under the influence of opioids or stimulants may not suffer the same effects as someone under the influence of alcohol. An experienced attorney can challenge these tests in an OUI drugs case.

  • Breathalyzer tests don’t work for drugs.

Aside from field sobriety tests, breathalyzers are perhaps the most well-known and commonly used tool for determining a driver’s level of intoxication. However, they don’t detect the presence of drugs. As such, breathalyzer data cannot be used against a driver in court unless alcohol was imbibed in combination with drugs and the driver submitted to the test.

  • It is difficult to prove what drug a driver was on.

The government can’t prove that a driver was under the influence of drugs unless they can prove what drug they were on. Police may call on a “Drug Recognition Expert” to examine a driver at the time of arrest. This is an officer who has special training in the recognition of specific types of drug intoxication. The DRE assessment may be used in court.

Most officers don’t have this type of training, however. In some cases, a DRE evaluation won’t be able to reveal exactly what drug a driver is on. An attorney can challenge the validity of a DRE evaluation in court.

Blood and urine tests can detect the presence of a drug. Blood tests don’t usually occur unless there was a serious accident. Urine tests don’t always reveal that a driver was intoxicated at the time of their arrest, only that they’ve used drugs in the past. An experienced Massachusetts DUI attorney can challenge the validity of such tests.

Opioid OUI Defense

If you were arrested for OUI drugs or OUI alcohol, have a Massachusetts OUI attorney review your case as soon as possible. In order to be found guilty of OUI, the government must prove without a reasonable doubt that you were:

  1. Operating a motor vehicle.
  2. Operating that vehicle in a “public way.”
  3. Under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time you operated the motor vehicle.

Each case is unique, which means there may be defenses you are not yet aware of. If the government can’t meet their burden of proof, your case could be dismissed. You could also receive a verdict of “Not Guilty.”

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Call DUI Attorney Joseph J Higgins for a free case evaluation today at 508-930-4273