If you struggle with a rare, recently-discovered medical condition that’s called auto-brewery syndrome (it’s also known as “gut fermentation” syndrome), or if you suffer from Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), or even if you smoke tobacco, you could be wrongly arrested and prosecuted for DWI (driving while intoxicated) or for DUI (driving under the influence). Breathalyzers are not very sophisticated devices, and when you blow into a breathalyzer, it detects in your breath any chemical substance – not only alcohol – that contains in its molecular structure elements of the methyl group of chemical compounds. While the law presumes that you are too drunk to drive if you register a blood alcohol content (BAC) level at 0.08 percent or higher on a breathalyzer test, for a number of drivers, the law’s presumption is simply wrong.
A 35-year-old Buffalo, New York school teacher, for example, had a driving while intoxicated charge dismissed in December 2015 because her defense attorney was able to prove to the court that she suffers from auto-brewery syndrome, which means that her body is a virtual human brewery. Auto-brewery syndrome is a rare physical condition that was first identified in the 1970s by medical researchers in Japan. The first case of auto-brewery syndrome in the United States was reported in 2013, and the condition is being used more as a DUI defense as it becomes more known, according to medical and legal experts.
The teacher was stopped by the police in October in Hamburg, a suburb of Buffalo, and a breathalyzer exam indicated that her BAC level was at more than four times the legal limit. The woman’s defense attorney contacted Dr. Barbara Cordell of Panola College in Carthage, Texas, who first identified auto-brewery syndrome in the United States and published her findings in the International Journal of Clinical Medicine. Dr. Cordell referred the attorney to Dr. Anup Kanodia in Columbus, Ohio. Dr. Kanodia determined that the woman had auto-brewery syndrome and suggested a low-carbohydrate diet that brought the syndrome under control. The driving while intoxicated charge was dropped, and the teacher is now allowed to drive without legal restrictions.
WHAT IS AUTO-BREWERY SYNDROME?
Auto-brewery syndrome is a condition where high amounts of yeast in the intestines ferment high-carbohydrate food into alcohol. The teacher in Buffalo is not the first driver who has been wrongly accused and prosecuted for driving under the influence due to a misunderstood medical condition. In fact, a wide variety of foods and drugs and several different medical problems can increase someone’s blood alcohol content level without that person drinking any alcohol whatsoever. If you are wrongly charged with driving while intoxicated or with driving under the influence, speak to a good DUI defense attorney immediately, and in the Las Vegas area, consult an experienced Las Vegas DUI lawyer at once after any arrest for driving under the influence.
Dr. Cordell first diagnosed auto-brewery syndrome in the U.S. when she encountered a man in Texas, 61 years old, who had been “getting drunk” without drinking since at least 2008. The man’s wife had taken him to a hospital in 2008 and again in 2010 with BAC levels at double and triple the legal intoxication limit. Dr. Cordell explained to the Longview News-Journal, “As a nurse, I’m a scientist and a patient advocate, so most of all, I wanted to get to the bottom of the story.”
“You have to be able to document the syndrome through recognized testing,” according to Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University. Professor Turley said the driving while intoxicated charge in the New York teacher’s case was thrown out of court only because the woman had been unaware that she had auto-brewery syndrome. Drivers who are aware of a medical problem that could impair their driving ability may be held liable if they get behind the wheel without taking the appropriate precautions.
IS THERE A CURE?
There is no certainty in the medical community about how a person acquires auto-brewery syndrome, and there is no known cure for the condition, either. A drug called fluconazole has been effective in controlling auto-brewery syndrome, and doctors additionally recommend a low-carbohydrate diet. Auto-brewery syndrome, as you might imagine, can be catastrophic in the day-to-day lives of those who struggle with it. Auto-brewery syndrome’s random intoxication effect can trigger health problems such as insomnia, anxiety, fatigue, and depression, and it could conceivably lead to employment and marital problems. However, as the condition becomes better-known, victims should find it easier to obtain treatment.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) is another medical condition that can boost someone’s BAC level and lead to a wrongful driving under the influence charge. Breathalyzer test results will always be wrong if you struggle with GERD. In fact, if you use Pepto-Bismol, Maalox, Prilosec, Tums, Rolaids, or Nexium, you may actually suffer from GERD without even knowing it, because those remedies can disguise GERD symptoms.
Remember, breathalyzers are not very advanced devices, so a breathalyzer assumes that the air you blow into it is air exclusively from your lungs. However, a GERD sufferer has alcohol gas moving continually from the stomach to the throat. The air blown into the breathalyzer combines gas from the lungs with the alcohol gas from the stomach, so the breathalyzer result – the measured BAC level – is much higher than it should be for those with GERD. Breathalyzers cannot detect GERD or any other medical condition.
WHAT’S THE PROBLEM WITH BREATHALYZERS?
In fact, since their invention back in the 1950s, there has been virtually no improvement in the way that breathalyzers work. Breathalyzers can deliver inaccurate breath test results after someone merely breathes in paint fumes or gasoline. Hypoglycemia sufferers and people with diabetes often have high acetone levels in their breath, but a breathalyzer cannot make a distinction between alcohol and acetone. Acetone levels can also be higher when someone is on an extreme diet or fasting. If you routinely take any indigestion or heartburn medication and you are arrested for driving under the influence, or if you are falsely accused of driving under the influence for any other reason, immediately speak to a good DUI attorney and get the defense representation you will need. In the Las Vegas area, contact an experienced Las Vegas DUI lawyer as quickly as possible after a DUI arrest.
Acetaldehyde is still another compound that breathalyzers misidentify as alcohol. Acetaldehyde is found in bread, coffee, ripened fruit, and in the lungs of cigarette smokers – who are far more likely than non-smokers to be falsely accused of driving under the influence because of inaccurate breathalyzer results. According to a 1991 study published in the British Medical Journal, researchers have found that the effect of cigarette smoking on blood alcohol content levels has “considerable social and medicolegal relevance” and that tobacco consumption should be factored in when measuring someone’s BAC level.
IF YOU ARE CHARGED WITH DUI, WHERE CAN YOU TURN?
If someone is charged with driving under the influence, an experienced DUI lawyer can thoroughly evaluate the evidence in the case, question the witnesses, and advocate aggressively on that person’s behalf. If you are charged with driving under the influence, and if you believe that you are innocent because you suffer from GERD or auto-brewery syndrome, your defense attorney can have your medical records examined and can also arrange for a diagnosis if it’s needed. Of course, you do not have to smoke, diet, or suffer from a medical condition to be charged with driving under the influence. A breathalyzer test can be wrong for all kinds of reasons – even radio frequency interference. If you are charged with driving under the influence for any reason, in any part of the country, you will immediately need the representation of a good DUI defense attorney. Don’t wait to retain legal help.
A DUI conviction is a serious conviction in Nevada and every other state. For even a misdemeanor first offense, a DUI conviction in Nevada is punishable by up to six months in jail, a $1,000 fine, a ninety-day license suspension, and court-ordered enrollment in a DUI school or a drug treatment program. Subsequent Nevada DUI convictions lead to even harsher penalties. Do not plead guilty and do not try to act as your own attorney if you are charged with driving under the influence. Your future and freedom are genuinely at risk. Beyond the legal penalties, a DUI conviction is also accompanied by unavoidable extra-legal penalties. Your automobile insurance will cost more after a DUI conviction. If you drive for a living – or if driving is a big part of your work – you could lose your current job and have trouble finding work in the future. If you hold a security clearance or a professional license, it will also be at risk of revocation.
The best advice about DUI is the advice that you always hear – don’t drink and drive, ever. Arrange for a designated driver or call a ride service or a taxi. In Las Vegas, transportation-for-hire is easy to find. Still, if you are accused of driving under the influence for any reason – whether you believe you are guilty or innocent of the charge – get the legal help you need and call a good DUI defense attorney immediately.