While some medications can cause a person to be “under the influence,” there are some medications that can actually cause a breathalyzer to give a high BAC reading either because they contain alcohol or because they contain components that can cause a false positive.
Got a toothache, canker sore, or cold sore? If you relieve the pain with some Anbesol and are subsequently pulled over, a breathalyzer might detect the alcohol in the medication rather than the alcohol that was consumed, if any. The oral gel is 10 percent benzocaine, 0.5 percent phenol, and a whopping 70 percent alcohol. That 70 percent alcohol content can certainly cause an increased breathalyzer reading. Other cold sore medications can have alcohol contents of up to 90 percent.
Congested from a cold or flu? Think twice about taking Vicks Formula 44 before getting behind the wheel. Formula 44 Cough contains 10 percent alcohol and Formula 44D contain 20 percent alcohol. Taking a swig of the Formula 44 before a breathalyzer can contribute to causing a person to blow above the legal limit of 0.08 percent BAC.
Another medicine people take to help them sleep through the symptoms of a cold or flu is NyQuil. However, one of the reasons why it helps people sleep is because it contains 25 percent alcohol. Not only can taking NyQuil before driving cause a person to be “under the influence” even if they are not drunk, it can also cause a person to test above the legal limit.
Believe it or not, some cough drops contain alcohol. Although cough drops may not have as much alcohol in them as the other cough medications mentioned above, they could still cause a higher breathalyzer reading. This is especially true if a piece of the cough drop gets caught between the teeth after it’s chewed.
Does asthma have you reaching for the inhaler? Unfortunately, Albuterol, which is the medication within inhalers, contains methyl groups. Breathalyzers test for the presence and amount of methyl groups, which are the primary chemical bonds found in alcohol. Therefore, if a person submits a breath sample to law enforcement shortly after using an inhaler, the BAC reading may be erroneously high.
This list is not exhaustive. Be sure to read the labels on both prescription and over the counter drugs. Remember that, not only can medications cause someone to be “under the influence” for purposes of a California DUI, but they can also cause a person to provide an unusually high BAC reading on a breathalyzer.
I’ll offer an extra word of warning to the sick asthmatic with a toothache who may be reading this.