Friday, May 05, 2006

Kennedy: Drinking or Medication - Does it Matter?

Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) was involved in a car accident the other night, slamming into a barricade after narrowly missing a police cruiser. Many are inferring that he was drunk. It was around 3am, his eyes were red, he was staggerin the full 8 hours. etc. But someone, not Kennedy, ordered the patrol officers to drive him home, without conducted field sobriety tests.

Imagine if Kennedy were a Republican. But put that aside...

Kennedy claims that he was taking sleeping medication, Ambien. He was also taking Phenergan for gastroenteritis, which can magnify the effects of Ambien. Interestingly, Kennedy did sleep, but woke up, disoriented (a side effect of the drug) before getting into his car and driving.

I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. From what I hear, Ambien is some pretty powerful stuff. If I take 2 Benedryl I get knocked out, and when I was on Vicodin I was knocked out pretty quickly too. But there is an interesting legal question here. Should it matter?

Should it be any different if someone goes out drinking, then, disoriented, gets behind the wheel of a car? Or if perscription medication, with known side effects, and whose purpose is to put you to sleep? People are only supposed to take the drug if they know they can get 8 hours of sleep. Kennedy, who awoke for some odd reason at 3am, presumably would have had time to sleep

There is no doubt that societally we frown more on drunk driving than on disorientation from medication, but that may be due to frequency, there are more drunk drivers than Ambien drivers. And, assuming they aren't addicts, drug takers have more of a need for medication than anyone needs alcohol.

I'm about to start finals, and last year's Criminal Law course is the last thing on my mind. But both the legal and policy points are interesting.