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Ambien: A Controlled Substance with Dangerous Consequences

North Carolina classifies Ambien as a Schedule IV drug in North Carolina, so it’s illegal to carry without a valid prescription. If law enforcement finds you with Ambien without a valid prescription, you could face possession or even trafficking charges. Even with a prescription, you could face DWI charges. Let’s look at why Ambien is a controlled substance and the possible consequences of using it.

What is Ambien?

Ambien is a prescription medication used for insomnia. As a controlled substance, it has the potential for abuse and addiction. Ambien (Lunesta and Sonata are other names) is a sedative-hypnotic medication to treat insomnia. Because it has the potential for abuse and addiction, it’s a schedule 4 controlled substance in NC.

Ambien works by slowing down brain activity and causing drowsiness, relaxing inhibitions. You can feel the effects of Ambien within 30 minutes. Ambien is only intended for short-term use, as it can be habit-forming.

Ambien May Cause You to Blackout

The scariest thing about Ambien is the sleepwalking side effect. Stories abound of individuals legally taking Ambien and driving while sleep-walking! They awake without knowledge of their actions. Despite the problems associated with Ambien, doctors often prescribe the medication.

In fact, “In some state toxicology laboratories, Ambien makes the top 10 list of drugs found in impaired drivers.” (1)

In 2008, the prescription Ambien label began including a stronger warning:

“After taking AMBIEN, you may get up out of bed while not being fully awake and do an activity that you do not know you are doing. Reported activities include:

  • Driving a car (sleep-driving)
  • Making and eating food
  • Talking on the phone
  • Having sex
  • Sleepwalking” (2)

Ambien DWI Charges 

Whether you have a valid prescription or not, you’ll face DWI charges in NC if police catch you driving while intoxicated because of Ambien in your system. Driving backward, hitting objects or other cars, or ignoring the police while sleep-driving can earn you a criminal record. 

A DWI charge is not always about alcohol. You can receive DWI charges for using any drug or medication while driving. (prescribed or not!) 

Even driving in a way that brings attention to you as an unsafe driver can earn you a DWI. That’s why it’s crucial to have a good defense if you face charges involving possession or DWI.

Using Ambien Without a Prescription

The consequences of using Ambien without a prescription can be severe. Possession of Ambien without a prescription is often a felony in North Carolina.

If law enforcement catches you with Ambien without a prescription, you could face misdemeanor possession charges for less than 100 tablets, capsules, or equivalent quantity. An Ambien possession charge can bring up to 2 years in prison and fines.

Possessing more than 100 tablets, capsules, or equivalent quantity can bring you Class I felony charges and up to 5 years in prison and fines.

Legal Defense to Ambien DWI

The state assumes that you are legally responsible for considering what a medication might do to you before taking it. Since Ambien warns of sleepwalking in the side effects, it is difficult to defend against crimes such as sleep-driving. And, juries have difficulty believing that a hypnotic drug can cause you to drive without your knowledge.

A court may need evidence of:

  • Sleepwalking at the time of the crime
  • The elapsed time between falling asleep and the criminal act
  • Medical factors
  • Trigger factors
  • Circumstantial evidence

However, sometimes an Ambien defense works for someone. Using an “Ambien defense was successful for Marie Connelly of Hillsborough, New Jersey, who escaped a driving under the influence charge by claiming that she was sleep-driving at the time of her arrest on September 10, 2006… At her municipal appeal, the court found Connelly not guilty of driving while intoxicated.” (3)

Ambien Defense for Possession Without a Prescription

If you face only simple possession charges, it is not as difficult to defend your behavior in a court of law. Legal defenses include looking at whether officers violated your rights, considering if this is a first-time offense for you, and whether you struggle with drug addiction issues.

There are a few other legal defenses for Ambien possession in North Carolina. One is to argue you didn’t know you had the drug in your possession. However, the state assumes you should have known what you possessed and its effects. 

You can also argue that you had a valid prescription for the drug. If you can provide evidence that you were taking the medication as prescribed by a doctor, you can avoid some consequences, but not necessarily a DWI.

If you’re facing charges, reach out to an experienced lawyer to help you build your legal defense and protect your future.

We Can Help

Contact us at Scharff Law if you have been accused of DWI, possession, or trafficking Ambien without a prescription. Our experienced criminal defense attorneys can review the facts of your case and determine the best course of action for your situation.

Contact us today for a free consultation. We can help you fight charges and protect your rights.