I got pulled over awhile back for driving under the influence of Zyprexa.
Actually, what the Oregon State Trooper noticed was my huge gaping yawn and erratic weaving within my own lane as I was passing him on the freeway about half a mile from where I worked. I was still yawning uncontrollably, with both hands on the steering wheel in plain view as I’d been taught many moons ago by my brother-in-law (himself a veteran of countless traffic stops), when the officer came up to my car window and asked for the usual documents.
“Get enough sleep last night, Ma’am?” was the initial query as he looked over the information, then peered into my eyes over his sunglasses. “You look pretty tired this morning. Did you know you were having trouble staying in your lane?”
I didn’t—at least, not until that moment—but then it occurred to me that I had absolutely no recall of the drive, and I lived 25 miles away from the job. “I guess I am a bit tired,” I conceded, then promptly stumbled into an episode of verbal incontinence that could have gotten me arrested. “I’m taking this new medication, and it makes me a little drowsy in the early mornings.”
The trooper was instantly interested. “What medication, Ma’am?” he wanted to know. I could’ve bitten my tongue off at that moment, because not only had I essentially just admitted to DUI, but now I had to explain what I was taking, and even worse, why I was taking it.
With all of the intelligence and grace of the college graduate that I am, I replied “Umm…..it’s well, um, Zyprexa.”
He was diplomatic, but firm in his pursuit of the truth. “And what kind of medication is that?”
“It’s something to calm me down a little,” I answered, realizing in the same moment how this second blunder must have sounded to the officer, but I was still reluctant to tell him that it was an antipsychotic. “It’s not a narcotic, though. Look, here’s the medicine.” Luckily I was carrying it with me for PRN (as-needed) use, so after fussing in my purse for a moment I produced the little green bottle and held it up for inspection. I was hoping he’d see that there was no red “C” for “controlled substance” on it and let me go without further ado.
“And you’re taking this because……..?” he persisted.
My humiliation was almost complete, and I blushed to my hairline. “It’s for my bipolar disorder.”
The expression on the trooper’s face changed the instant my confession was out. “I’m sorry,” was the surprising response. “My wife’s sister has that. Brutal disease—she had to stop working because of it. Wouldn’t wish it on anybody.” Then he handed me back my license and registration and continued, “You know it’s a crime to drive under the influence of ANY intoxicant—even prescribed meds. Right?”
My mouth went dry instantly and I could barely croak out the words “Yes, sir.” But instead of ordering me out of the car and reaching for the cuffs, he leaned in closer toward my window and said, “Look, Ma’am, since you’re close to your work I’m going to let you go, but only THIS time. I don’t want to see you on this freeway again when you’re too sleepy to drive safely. Good luck and have a nice day.”
To say that this was better than a Christmas gift would be an understatement. Not only had I barely escaped an embarrassing and potentially damaging criminal charge, but by the grace of God I hadn’t injured or killed anyone……including myself. So whenever I talk to people about bipolar medications, I often throw in this little story as a public-service announcement that even non-narcotic drugs can make us unsafe behind the wheel.
Bottom line: NEVER operate a motor vehicle until/unless you know how a medication affects you. (That includes dosage increases; something that was OK at 20 mg may knock you on your keister at 40 mg.) Thank you for not driving while bipolar, and like my friend the trooper said….have a nice day!