Home / Capitol Insiders / Methadone bill signed into law; no mention of methadone

Methadone bill signed into law; no mention of methadone

Gov. Jan Brewer signed a bill on July 13 that originally aimed specifically to penalize people caught driving while under the influence of methadone.

But the legislation was watered down to a point where the final language differs only slightly from existing law. It actually morphed several times, as sometimes happens to measures as they work their way through the Legislature.

The bill originally specified that a driver who has methadone or its metabolite in his or her body is guilty of driving under the influence or DUI, even if the drug was prescribed by a doctor. Several amendments later, though, it didn’t carry the same punch.

First, it was amended on the Senate floor to state that a driver that has a prescription drug in his or her body, including methadone, is only exempt from DUI if he or she took the drug as prescribed.

The House further amended the measure by deleting the word “methadone” as an example of a prescription drug.

As transmitted to the governor, the bill stated that a driver who has a prescription drug in his or her body is only exempt from DUI if he or she took the drug as prescribed.

This final version appears pretty much the same as what is already on the books, which exempts a driver who is using a drug from DUI charges if the drug is prescribed by a licensed medical practitioner and the driver is not impaired to the slightest degree.

In fact, the enacted bill only added the word “as” to the existing DUI statute, which now reads: “A person using a drug, as prescribed by a medical practitioner licensed pursuant to title 32, chapter 7, 11, 13 or 17 is not guilty of violating subsection A, paragraph 3 of this section.”

Sen. Jim Waring, the bill’s author, said the one-word change represents a small but important adjustment to state law.

“You could be having a prescription and be doing all sorts of different things with it,” he said.
Waring, a Republican from Phoenix, said he personally wanted people not to be driving while they are on methadone.

“But in the compressed timeframe of this session… you don’t have time to work it through like you normally would as far as getting members to see your point of view,” he said. “It’s just the way it is. You got to take what you can get. This is what I could get.”

Lawmakers spent had most of their energy on fixing a record-breaking budget deficit this session. Senators only started hearing non-budget bills in the final month of session.

During a House committee hearing in June, Jerry Landau, a lobbyist for the Arizona Supreme Court, clarified that under the amended bill, a person who is using a drug not as prescribed by a doctor – meaning that if the person were abusing the drug, for example – then he or she is liable under DUI laws.

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