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Mixing Painkillers and Concealed Carry

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What are the legal and practical considerations of mixing firearms with painkillers?

Recently I saw a comment on one of our articles about prescription drugs and carrying a gun and figured I'd add some thoughts, here. In a nutshell, the man wrote that he made the decision to temporarily not carry his firearm because he was prescribed painkillers for a broken collarbone. The man's comment, struck a nerve (no pun intended) in several ways, and it drove me to write this article.

First, I can personally relate to the man who wrote the comment. I'll refer to him as ‘Marty.' See, I suffer from chronic knee pain from an injury I sustained in 2000 while in the Marine Corps. I had a completely torn ACL and meniscus which required the doctor to construct a new one from my hamstring. Several follow-up surgeries to repair torn menisci in both my knees has left me with arthritis and constant pain.

Unfortunately, like many other Americans, my doctor's solution was to prescribe me opioid painkillers. I won't use these medications and instead resort to alternative methods to deal with the pain. Some work better than others, but nothing takes the pain away. But, I know there are those with more severe pain than I have, and others who are addicted to these substances.

My story is not unique. In fact, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that in 2015, 92 million or 38% of Americans were prescribed an opioid painkiller. Estimates of concealed carry license holders in America are around 16 million, and the number of Americans who carry a firearm daily is probably higher due to the fact that some states do not require a license, and many states allow open carry. In other words, there is a high likelihood that you may be a legal gun carrier and prescribed an opioid painkiller. So, whats the big deal?

There are really two considerations that come along with combining opioids and firearms.

The first is a legal consideration: is it legal in my state to take painkillers and carry a firearm?

The second is a practical consideration: is it wise to take painkillers and carry a firearm?

92 million Americans were prescribed opioid painkillers in 2015. They have been overprescribed, however, there are some who legitimately need temporary use of these potent medicines.

The Legal Consideration:

American gun laws vary widely from state to state, so if you are prescribed a medication like Oxycontin or Percocet and carry a firearm, it would behoove you to know exactly what the law is. States that have laws of prohibition usually include something such as ‘being under the influence, of the drug.' This would mean that some impairment would most likely need to be shown. The argument here is if someone is taking the drug at prescribed levels, it should not cause impairment. However, opioids can affect people differently at different times. And when combined with alcohol, other medications or even lack of sleep, impairment could be present even at a dosage where previously there was none. So it's a difficult area to navigate, legally speaking.

There could also be legal implications in states that do not prohibit taking these medications while possessing a firearm. For example, any thorough investigation into a defensive gun use will include a toxicology analysis of the person(s) involved in the shooting. Any prescribed or illicit drugs or alcohol found in the shooter's system will absolutely be brought up in court. Will it result in a negative outcome? That is impossible to answer, but without a doubt, it is a fact of the case, and it will be considered.

This Ohio law pertaining to possession of a firearm while ‘under the influence' can leave a gray area for law-abiding concealed carriers who take prescription painkillers.

The Practical Consideration:

Let's strip out any legal argument for a moment and just look at if it makes sense to combine the two. The obvious consideration is that even if the medication does not cause the legal definition of impairment, there is a dulling of the senses that occur with these medications.

This is where the two sides of the same coin are debated. The first argument would say that because the senses are dulled, situational awareness is diminished and your judgment potentially is, as well. For these people, that is a good reason not to combine the two. The other side of that argument is that, because my senses are dulled I am less able to defend myself. I am a ‘softer target' and therefore I have even more reason to carry a firearm.

I have seen the argument that some people don't feel any different when they are on the medication. In fact, they feel like not being on the medication causes them to be more focused on the pain than on their situational awareness. So they might argue that being on the medication actually ‘improves' their overall well being and carrying a firearm is not an issue.

A thorough defensive gun use investigation will likely include a blood draw and toxicology report on the people involved. Beneficial or not, levels of opioids will be part of the evidence presented.

My Two Cents on the Matter:

Like many of you, I have willfully taken the role of being the first line of defense for my family and me, inside or outside the home. I find the mind to be the most powerful weapon we have. It allows us to sense danger, respond appropriately and adapt quickly to a changing threat. For this reason, I do not like to diminish my awareness with medications or alcohol. When I have taken prescribed painkillers, I felt out of sorts, even under the prescribed dosage. So again for me, I choose not to mix the two.

A clear and focused brain is one of our greatest tools for survival.

Sure, there are times when opioid painkilling medicines are necessary. And I am in no way whatsoever condemning people for drinking alcohol. ‘My Two Cents on the Matter' is explaining my personal rationale for not mixing painkillers and firearms. If you have been at similar crossroads, I hope this will help you establish your own rationale on the issue. Depending on your relationship and trust in your doctor, a discussion on the topic may help.

Is it okay to take these medications and carry a firearm? I've given you my take on this topic, I would love to hear what you think. Stay safe and God bless.


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13 Responses to Mixing Painkillers and Concealed Carry

  1. Anita Ray August 28, 2018 at 8:42 pm #

    Great article. I recently wrestled with this myself, and my personal decision was to not carry while taking short term prescription of pain killers. My decision was based on multiple factors: I did not feel I had total cognitive awareness or physical/situational control; I did not feel comfortable driving a car, so why would I carry?; and, IF I found myself in a situation where I felt my life was threatened, if everything didn’t line up in my favor with witnesses, police, etc., would my RX pain killer put ME behind bars?

  2. Wayne Morgan April 7, 2019 at 8:21 pm #

    One instance in which painkillers would not affect you is when you’ve been on said painkillers, at the same level and dosage for many years. I do everything else a normal person would. But the painkillers barely work at all anymore. Granted, if I stop, i wouldn’t be able to get out of bed. But they have no affect on my judgment, ability to drive, etc. I’m not on a very high dosage, by any means, and I do not stray from my doctors instructions. Unless I take less. As when on long trips, where I’m not moving much.

    • John Richards February 26, 2020 at 5:59 pm #

      You make an excellent point. I had a problem with my oncologist being a quack and overdosing me on chemo drugs about 11 years ago. Medically, I’m considered an anomaly as 95% of people, on average, should have been killed outright. But it left me with significant nerve damage and neuropathy in my hands, feet, and corneas. The corneal neuropathy had me considering taking my own life until a physician finally took pity on me and referred me to pain management. Then I ended up fracturing three cervical vertebrae in 2014. No spinal cord damage, thank God, but the nerve damage from chemo means the pain of significant injuries leave something like an “echo”.

      So, it’s generally accepted by my pain management specialist is that I will be on opiate painkillers for life unless they invent something better. I have neuropathíc pain meds, which help change how your brain interprets the pain; essentially you can sort of push the pain aside to think, at least for a little while. So I also have a script for an entirely non-narcotic muscle relaxer to help mitigate the upper back and neck responding to an injury that’s no longer there. They allow me to get by with lower dosages of my painkillers, or take them less frequently, so as to help reduce the rate that opiate tolerance develops. I’ve been functional and thriving since 2012 employing this method: I am getting married, have qlready bought and am fixing up our first home, and am finishing my PhD and am getting my license to practice in the mental healthcare field via telemedicine, as the chemo did enough damage to disable me and make leaving the house some days a complete impossibility.

      All that said, I am a gun lover, support the Second Amendment vehemently, want to learn basic gunsmithing once I get the capital for the tools, and was conducting research before applying for my CCW. And I just read Georgia’s law regarding intoxication and conceal carrying.
      The code in question states:

      (a) It shall be unlawful for any person to discharge a firearm while:

      (1) Under the influence of alcohol or any drug or any combination of alcohol and any drug to the extent that it is unsafe for the person to discharge such firearm except in the defense of life, health, and property.

      (b) The fact that any person charged with violating this Code section is or has been legally entitled to use a drug shall not constitute a defense against any charge of violating this Code section; provided, however, that such person shall not be in violation of this Code section unless such person is rendered incapable of possessing or discharging a firearm safely as a result of using a drug other than alcohol which such person is legally entitled to use.

      Now, I don’t have much money for a defense attorney, but the language here seems murky enough to be able to get around. “Under the influence” and “to the extent that it is unsafe for the person to discharge such firearm” give a person a ton of leeway in terms of defining what being under the influence and unsafe to discharge. There are no definitions in the case of legal prescription medications in Georgia’s legal code. And “except in the defense of life, health, and property” seems like an escape clause, doesn’t it? I mean, why else would you be discharging your weapon if not in the defense of life, health, and property?

      The wording of the subsequent clause is almost tautological, but it seems to be saying that having a legal prescription is not a defense against charges of violating Code (1), but that only applies if the shooter/carrier is so intoxicated as to be incapable of possessing or discharging a firearm safely. And that’s essentially the same cloudy wording in Code (1) regarding how one defines non-alcoholic intoxication to the degree one cannot be safe with a firearm. And even that seems to be waived if you’ve got a prescription and employed the firearm for the only reasons a citizen in good standing should employ a firearm.

      Does that hot mess make the same sense to you that I have reasoned? Would you carry if those were the laws you had to deal with in your state? I am curious to get your opinion since we both have the same chronic pain problem confusing things.

  3. Bill King May 15, 2019 at 5:50 am #

    Good topic and article. OOOrah to a fellow Marine and a CCW carrier. I have also been thinking about this issue. I herniated a disc in lower back which ended up putting pressure on my sciatic nerve. Most intense pain I have ever experienced. Worse then shingles which I have flareups as well. Anyway, I was prescribed muscle relaxers and oxycodone. I took both for about 2 weeks then decided to stop and only take when pain was at a level that I could not sleep. I keep a couple in my bug out bag which is always with me. So I started wondering what would happen if I was pulled over for a traffic violation, involved in an accident or was involved in a self defense situation and used deadly force and had the medication on my person. Not even taking the drug, just had with me. Kind of scary so I stopped carrying temporarily. I plan on studying state laws so I am aware of the situation but as you said: I chose to carrier for protection of my family and the innocent and for this reason I choose to accept the pain and carryon without the drugs. Thanks for your service, military and civilian wise.

    • Jean Robert Kutzer October 14, 2019 at 1:07 pm #

      I know if they find those pills you can be taken to jail if you don’t have your prescription with you. And sometimes even if you do.

  4. Frank Cabeceiras June 11, 2019 at 7:14 pm #

    Can u carry a firearm and be prescribed OxyContin in Massachusetts? If anyone can help. It would be appreciated

    • Matthew Maruster June 12, 2019 at 9:17 am #

      Hi Frank, I am not an attorney and do not live in Mass. As far as I can find there is no state statute that prohibits someone from possessing a firearm and being PRESCRIBED Oxy. However, like other states, Mass prohibits one from being under the influence of any substance while possessing a firearm, see M.G.L. c. 269, § 10(h). The issue at hand is what constitutes ‘under the influence’. Typically this would mean that you would have to show some sort of impairment. Impairment is often a judgment call based on the officer’s observations. People often believe that they cannot be arrested for a DWI if their BAC is below .08. This is totally false as we all know alcohol affects people very differently, especially if mixed with medications or marijuana. So someone at .03 could be very impaired, while someone at .09 may not show as much impairment. This underscores my point about it coming down to the observable signs and symptoms of the person, and the officer’s ability to recognize and articulate why he/she believes the person is impaired. However, I am not familiar with case law in Mass concerning if the statute is interpreted as ‘impaired’ or simply any ‘consumption’. So technically if the standard was ‘consumption’ even if you took a medically prescribed dosage that does not impair your judgment, you would be in violation. My opinion would be that in most cases if you are not abusing the medication, and take it in therapeutic dosages prescribed by a doctor, you would be okay in carrying a gun (legally). If doing that is the best practice is the other part of the equation. That is a personal choice one has to make. My personal choice not to carry a gun if I take even a prescribed dose of medication that could affect my judgment is based on my pro/con assessment and independent from the legal consequences. I don’t know if this helps answer your question, but thank you for reading and for the question.

  5. joey furr August 29, 2019 at 3:42 am #

    I think the Law should be that if your taking painkillers you shouldn’t carry a gun.How can you make the correct decision on painkillers. Laws need to be changed to stop people from carrying guns on painkillers. It’s a bomb getting ready to explode.

    • Allen May 22, 2020 at 4:16 pm #

      It’s a bomb getting ready to explode? Wow. What’s the difference in driving a 6000lb truck after a couple of beers and carrying a gun while taking pain ” killers”. Sounds like it would kill my pain yet it’s doesn’t. You have no idea what it’s like to have chronic pain so bad that if you were to have to stop taking those meds youd kill yourself. Not knee pain or a back ache. You wouldn’t like me when I’m in pain. My mind is not clear and it’s the exact opposite. But if I take pain meds I can relax not because I’m buzzed but because my pain is diminished. But you have to be brutally honest with yourself and not carry when you do have those times where you get fuzzy or cant think clearly whether from pain or meds. You can’t be thinking you’re going to chase down bad guys any more or really intervene in something that’s not directly related to you or your family. At times we are all impaired at some point by lack of sleep. But they let me carry a gun and point a loaded rifle at bad people after being frozen to the ground on no sleep for over 24 hours after a 12 hour shift. Being pain free is a dream compared to that. It’s all about personal responsibility. I do the same with driving. Let the wife drive if you shouldn’t. I thought we were all about personal responsibility and less laws unless you’re a Democrat then you’re comment makes sense.

  6. Bob September 27, 2019 at 6:10 pm #

    Joey Furr, you obviously have never been on long term slow release pain medication. You don’t know what your talking about.

    • Jean Robert Kutzer October 14, 2019 at 1:09 pm #

      Worse is if you live in Florida where painkillers were removed from the market recently. Thousands have died from withdrawals and suicides since they couldn’t take the pain.

  7. Thomas January 8, 2020 at 12:15 pm #

    There’s some solid thinking in these comments. I live in a high crime area. I have used opioid pain killers for years. Morphine and Oxycodone. Three of my children are police officers. At their insistence I obtained a concealed carry permit. I cannot get by without the pain meds. They have given me the ability to get out of bed. So not taking them is not an option.

    My children know that my pain meds will legally complicate any shooting that I might get into. They also know that my judgement is not affected by the pain meds. I would know when to use lethal force. They know that my motor skills are good. I shoot often and can give any one of them a challenge in marksmanship. They put it to me like this, “We’d rather see you judged by 12 than carried by 6.

  8. Steve October 30, 2020 at 1:48 pm #

    I live in Mississippi and the right to use medical marijuana is coming up for vote next week. I understand about drug use legal and illegal. I legally use pain killers for a lot of problems that don’t need mentioning here. But if a person has a prescription for weed, does that not make it legal? I have heard and read so many conflicting articles that I’m extremely lost on this issue. The most recent one is that if pot becomes legal and you get a scrip for it you can’t own a firearm. If I was going to lose my firearms because of the legal use of any substance, I would just have to lay in bed or sit in a chair because I won’t give up my guns.

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