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N.H.'s New DUI Law Covering Prescription Drugs Goes Into Effect Jan. 1

Starting  Jan. 1, driving under the influence of prescription drugs, over the counter medications or any other chemical substances is a crime in New Hampshire.

Law enforcement officials say the change will help them prosecute drivers impaired by drugs not previously covered under state law.  Lawmakers expanded the state’s driving under the influence law in 2012 and Gov. Lynch signed it into law last June.

For drivers, this means driving while impaired by prescription drugs, over the counter drugs or any other chemical substance is illegal. Before, only alcohol and drugs were included.

State Police Sgt. Matthew Shapiro works in the highway safety unit and says 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.  Back in April, he testified in favor of the bill. 

He said it’s needed because of an increase in the use of prescription drugs and the development of new substances, such as bath salts.

“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.”

But defense attorneys in the state call the law over-reaching.  Attorney Dan Hynes, who specializes in DUI defense, predicts an increase in false arrests in 2013.

“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.  I think it’s particularly difficult for police officers to determine whether someone’s under the influence of a certain drug.”

But Sgt. Shapiro says the state has trained Drug Recognition Experts to help detect when someone is impaired by drugs. He says blood tests could also be used.

Laws in many other states, including Vermont and Maine, are written broadly enough to include prescription drugs in their definitions.