Tiger Woods’ recent headline in the news is one that is catching the attention of many addiction experts and law enforcement officials in the nation—and it has nothing to do with his par. During his arrest for driving impaired, it wasn’t alcohol, nor illicit drugs, but the misuse of prescription drugs that made him disoriented and sleepy. Listed in Woods’ police report are the following medications: Solarex, Vicodin, Torix and Vioxx. Woods’ also informed the arresting officer that he used Xanax.
The behavioral effects of prescription drugs vary widely, depending not just on the drug but on the person taking it. Some opioid prescriptions like oxycodone, hydrocodone, or morphine can dull alertness and slow reaction time; others, such as stimulants including amphetamines, cocaine, or MDMA, can cause hallucinations, hyperexcitability, and bizarre, erratic, sometimes violent behavior. Mixing prescription medications, or taking them with alcohol or illicit drugs, can dangerously exacerbate impairment and significantly increase the risk of accidents or death, researchers say.
For example, in Woods’ case, the side effects of Vicodin, a powerful opiate pain medication, may have caused lightheadedness, dizziness and blurred vision, confusion and unusual behavior. Combined with Xanax, a benzodiazepine that treats anxiety and depression, Woods’ may have experienced increased sedation and slower breathing rendering him completely unable to drive a car, let alone walk a straight line. In the past few years, Woods has had knee surgery, elbow injuries and continuing back injuries that have led to multiple surgical procedures with the most recent surgery just earlier this year. To deal with the pain and recovery of his surgery, Woods had been prescribed these strong medications.
Our nation is experiencing rampant use of prescriptions for narcotic painkillers, anti-anxiety medications, sleep aids and other powerful drugs. We are starting to see how the misuse of these drugs can make driving unsafe. In fact, a study conducted by NHTSA (NHTSA 2013-2014 Roadside Survey) found that more than 22% of drivers tested positive for illegal, prescription, or over-the-counter drugs in blood and/or oral fluid tests. These statistics are rising and causing law enforcement officials to consider new driving laws and to develop new technology to detect drugs in the system during traffic stops. Officials say the problem is growing so quickly that states have begun to train their police officers to spot signs of drug impairment. According to ASAM, of the 20.5 million Americans 12 or older that had a substance use disorder in 2015, 2 million had a substance use disorder involving prescription pain relievers. In 2012 alone, 259 million prescriptions were written for opioids, which is more than enough to give every American adult their own bottle of pills.
Prescription drug abuse is an epidemic that is causing a surge in addiction treatment center admissions. For those who seek help, rehabilitation is possible with the proper treatment program in place. If you are abusing prescription medication or suspect that a loved one is, get help immediately. Tiger Woods is lucky to have been found with his car parked on the side of the road. For others, they could very well end up in devastating consequences.