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January 13, 2013

Expanded DUI law in effect in N.H.

Prescription, OTC drugs now included

A new state law has made it tougher for people who drive under the influence of drugs in New Hampshire.

The law, which went into effect Jan. 1, has made driving impaired due to over-the-counter and prescription drugs illegal.

“There was a loophole in the language which did not include many drugs which impair you to drive,” said State Police Sgt. Matthew Shapiro, commander of the drug recognition program. “People could be 10 times more impaired and not be prosecuted.”

But local police officials said the change in the law won’t change how they go about enforcement.

“It’s really not any different. We will still do field sobriety testing, still conduct an investigation,” Windham police Capt. Mike Caron said. “It absolutely will not change the way we operate.”

But defense attorney Mark Stevens of Salem, who specializes in DUI cases, is advising his clients to be careful about what they say to police if pulled over.

“Even if you pass a sobriety test,” Stevens said, “if your eyes look red and you say you have a cold and you took NyQuil or Sudafed, you can be arrested for that.”

Not so, police officials say.

“We still need articulable suspicion for a stop,” Caron said. “We need probable cause and evidence of some influence.”

Shapiro said the law simply ensures all drivers who are impaired will be prosecuted.

In Massachusetts, drivers can be prosecuted for driving under the influence of alcohol, narcotics, marijuana, hallucinogenics, depressants like barbituates and stimulants like amphetamine. The law does not specifically cover over-the-counter or prescription medicines.

In New Hampshire, the law previously only punished drivers who drove under the influence of controlled drugs. Now, if it is determined that over-the-counter medicine such as antihistamines or ibuprofen caused the driver to be impaired, that’s cause for arrest.

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