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Drugs and Medicines Complicate a Michigan License Restoration Appeal

In the section entitled “Getting it,” I outlined the fundamental importance of Sobriety as a concept that means not ingesting any potentially addictive or mind or mood altering medication or substances, including, of course, alcohol. The Michigan Secretary of State adopts the larger view of addiction professionals that once a person develops an alcohol problem, or any substance abuse problem, for that matter, they must remain abstinent from any “risky” substances. This means that if you are in recovery from a drinking problem, you can’t smoke marijuana or take Xanax.

The Secretary of State’s Driver Assessment and Appeal Division (DAAD) will deny just about any Michigan drivers license reinstatement appeal involving a person who no longer drinks, but has a prescription for any drugs it considers risky. “Risky,” in this sense, generally means anything that is potentially habit-forming, or has the potential for abuse. The phrase “mind or mood altering,” often used to describe this class of substances can be more simply translate to things that can give you a buzz, zone you out, or otherwise get you high.

It does not matter that a person has a valid prescription.

In fact, at the time a person undergoes his or her Substance Abuse Evaluation, the issue of prescription medications will be addressed. In addition, part of the Evaluation process requires a urinalysis. It goes without saying that if any drugs are found in a person’s urine, for which they don’t have or present a valid prescription, the Evaluation is pretty much ruined. Beyond that, however, a competent Evaluator, like those from the local Clinic that I use, will not simply accept that a person can use this or that substance just because they “have a prescription.” Much of the time so-called “risky medications” become an issue, we find that the prescribing physician was not informed by the patient that he or she is in recovery from an alcohol problem. In the real world, most people don’t tell their doctor or their dentist that they have an existing diagnosis of alcohol abuse or dependence (hopefully in remission), and that they need to avoid that class of “risky” medications.

This is very important. Most (but not all) doctors know that a person in recovery needs to avoid certain kinds of drugs. There are times when medical necessity trumps recovery, however, and the physician will have no choice but to use a “risky” medication. In such cases, however, the doctor’s role in dispensing these medicines involves weighing the benefits versus risks, and then carefully monitoring and limiting the use of such drugs. Almost everyone knows, or at least knows of someone who suffered an injury and wound up addicted to some kind of pain medication, like Vicodin. The risk of this happening to someone in recovery is much higher, because for such a person, the abuse/dependence (meaning addiction) issue is already present. Getting even a little “zoned out” by any such drugs is essentially a kind of relapse.

The whole issue of “medical necessity” doesn’t even come into play, however, if a person hasn’t told his or her doctor or dentist about their alcohol problem. In the context of a Michigan license reinstatement appeal, this is a fatal problem.

How this is handled within the framework of a Michigan license restoration case begets the classic, albeit dreaded, Lawyer-type answer: It depends. In certain cases, a very detailed letter needs to be provided by the doctor to satisfy both the Evaluator and the DAAD. To make sure all the relevant issues are addressed completely and properly, I handle this aspect of the case and provide specific instructions and a kind of template for the doctor to follow.

The larger point is that once this becomes an issue, it never just goes away, and it is never good enough to simply present a valid prescription, or otherwise just tell the DAAD that you’ve told your doctor about your recovery. License Appeals are decided on the basis of evidence, and just saying something, or otherwise indicating something was said, is NOT evidence. That’s why I exercise control in the way I do, and handle the details of any explanatory letter myself.

As always, the big risk is that if this, or any issue is not addressed to the satisfaction of the Hearing Officer deciding it, the Appeal will be denied and you’ll have to wait another full year to try again. In risky medication cases, however, the problems that need to be fixed in the interim may require more than a year to satisfactorily resolve. This is why input from a Michigan drivers license reinstatement lawyer is invaluable. Even if I have to delay a License Appeal for a few months, it’s far better to do that than bull-rush into something that will sideline you for a few years. As the old saying goes, “you don’t know what you don’t know.”

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