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What Tiger Woods' DUI Tells Us About Prescription Drugs

Published September 4, 2017
| Written By SpineNation Editorial Staff  

News of champion golfer Tiger Woods being arrested for driving under the influence in the early morning hours of Memorial Day sent shockwaves across the nation with a mugshot that drove headlines. In a statement, Woods said the arrest was “an unexpected reaction to prescribed medications”—not alcohol.

Officers found Woods on the side of the road asleep behind the wheel of his 2015 Mercedes Benz, said to CNN. Police said that Woods was cooperative, but his speech was "extremely slow and slurred, mumbled and confused." He released a statement later that day saying that he “takes several prescriptions,” including Vicodin. Woods took two breathalyzer tests scoring a .000, according to documents released by the Jupiter, Florida, police department. When asked by The Mercury News whether the medications were related to Woods’ ongoing back problems or to surgery he had on his back on April 20, Woods’ longtime agent, Mark Steinberg, declined to say.

Woods most recently had his fourth back surgery on April 20 to alleviate ongoing pain in his back and leg. The operation was performed by Dr. Richard Guyer of the Center for Disc Replacement at the Texas Back Institute.

“After he recovers from surgery, he will gradually begin his rehabilitation until he is completely healed,” Guyer said. “Once that’s accomplished, his workouts will be geared to allowing him to return to competitive golf.”

In a statement on his website, Woods said, “The surgery went well, and I’m optimistic this will relieve my back spasms and pain. When healed, I look forward to getting back to a normal life, playing with my kids, competing in professional golf and living without the pain I have been battling so long.” Woods has had previous herniations and three surgeries. His bottom lower-back disc severely narrowed, causing sciatica and severe back and leg pain. Even while performing conservative therapy, which included rehabilitation, medications, limiting activities and injections, Woods failed to find a permanent solution which led him to opting for his fourth surgery.

While questions surrounding this most recent case remain, one question revolves around the possible abuse of prescription medicines and even moreso, the rise of DUIs, injuries, and fatal car crashes involving prescription medications and other types of drugs in recent years.

According to federal data released to USA Today, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has tracked an upswing in the percentage of drivers testing positive for illegal drugs and prescription medications. The percentage of traffic deaths in which at least one driver tested positive for drugs — illegal or prescribed — has nearly doubled over a decade.

"As we see more people drive on the road with different controlled substances, whether they be illicit or prescription drugs, the risk is increasing," said Tim Brown, associate research scientist at NADS and co-author of the study, in an interview.

In April, health insurer Cigna reported that it had cut its plan holders' use of opioids by 12 percent in just one year by promoting alternative treatments and putting other addiction-fighting safety measures into place.

The health care system is struggling to cope with the rising number of addicts as U.S. regulators and lawmakers take steps to control the supply and use of opioids. Since 1999, prescription opioids sold in the United States has nearly quadrupled, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In the case of Tiger Woods, it remains to be seen if his cocktail of prescriptions is indicative of a larger problem for him, but we’ll keep a close eye.

Upon release, Woods said in a statement, "I understand the severity of what I did and I take full responsibility for my actions.”

What’s Next?

While Woods isn’t openly admitting that he will be going to rehab, he did release a statement according to entertainment website TMZ stating, “I’m currently receiving professional help to manage my medications and the ways that I deal with back pain and a sleep disorder.”

TMZ speculates that Woods going public about seeking professional help may be a strategy in his pending DUI case in an attempt to show the judge that he's taking his problem seriously, which could affect sentencing.

His arraignment, which was originally scheduled for July 5, was delayed last week until Aug. 9. No reason was given for the delay, reported USA Today.

“An Outpouring of Support”

In a tweet on June 19, Tiger stated, “I am currently receiving professional help to manage my medications and the way I deal with back pain and a sleeping disorder. I want to thank everyone for the amazing outpouring of support and understanding especially the fans and players on the tour.”

Fellow golfer Rory McIlroy spoke to Woods recently. “I reached out to him whenever everything broke a few weeks ago and just making sure he was OK,” McIlroy said at the Travelers Championship. “I felt I built up a good relationship with Tiger over the last few years. He’s OK. He’s gone through a rough time the last few years with injuries and being in pain and not being able to sleep. I totally understand how that can happen. So it’s good that he’s getting help. It’s good that he’s on the road to recovery, I guess. I guess everyone in golf and around the world just wishes him the best.

“That’s really the thing that he feels more than anything else. He’s felt an outpouring of love over the past few weeks after all this happened, and he really appreciates that. Hopefully forget the golf for a minute, and go back to being able to lead a normal life, raise his kids and have good times doing that.”

Updated: June 7, 2021

Information provided within this article is for educational purposes and is not a substitute for medical advice. Those seeking specific medical advice should consult his or her doctor or surgeon. If you need to consult with a specialist, you may be able find a health care provider in our Specialist Finder. SpineNation does not endorse treatments, procedures, products or physicians.

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