Prescription medications, especially opioid painkillers have become a major problem in the U.S. and the recent incident with Tiger Woods is another example of how widespread the abuse is throughout the country. Almost half of all Americans personally know someone who is addicted to prescription painkillers about 80 people die from opioid overdoses every day. Although it remains unclear whether golf star, Tiger Woods, is addicted to painkillers he has been taking several prescriptions for pain problems. Only a few weeks ago he was found by police passed out behind the wheel of his car, incoherent and groggy when he spoke to them. He was subsequently arrested and charged with driving under the influence. At the time of the arrest, Woods had a blood alcohol level of 0.00 but he admitted that he had taken several prescription drugs.
Woods’ Pain Issues and Use of Opioids
In the past few years, Tiger Woods has been taking four different prescription drugs, most of which were prescribed for pain. At the time of the arrest he was taking Vicodin, Turox ( which is illegal in the U.S.) and Vioxx which was discontinued because it was linked to heart issues. Woods has struggled with pain issues over the years due to a number of injuries that occurred from playing golf as well as a car crash that took place a few years ago when he lost control of his SUV and hit a fire hydrant. Following the car crash, Woods underwent multiple surgeries and likely was prescribed medication to manage his pain. Opioid painkillers are very commonly prescribed after surgery with more than a third of people in the U.S. given a prescription after completing a procedure. Opioids like Vicodin, are usually classified as Schedule II substances because they are known to be highly addictive. They also have side effects such as confusion, depressed breathing, and drowsiness which can impair users in their daily functions.
Following the incident, Woods explained that he was experiencing unintended side effects from the combination of different medications he was taking. He has not admitted to having any kind of problem with abuse although his good friend and fellow golfer, Jack Nicklaus has said that Woods has been struggling a lot lately and that he “needs our help.” Nicklaus has been supportive of Woods’ career and been there for him as he dealt with issues of back pain. At this point Woods has had four surgeries on his back in the last three years due to severely narrowed lower back disk which caused sciatica, a painful nerve condition affecting the lower back and legs. The golf star has expressed his hopes to live pain free but unfortunately he is still in need of potent and highly addictive medications like Vicodin.
The Prevalence of Painkillers in the U.S.
The issue that Tiger Woods is experiencing is nothing new for many Americans who struggle with pain and are prescribed dangerous medications in order to cope. One of the problems that can lead to addiction is the tendency for these kinds of drugs to cause a feeling of euphoria in the user that allows them to escape not only their physical pain but any emotional issues they may be dealing with as well. Because many painkillers are opioids, they are actually very similar chemically to heroin, one of the most addictive illegal drugs available. Physicians are often prescribing these kinds of drugs too readily and even over-prescribing them to individual patients, giving them a bottle sufficient for 30 days of relief when they may only need a couple weeks worth. Patients may be tempted to continue taking the remainder of their medication and before they realize it they have developed an addiction.
One of the reasons painkillers are considered an addictive drug is that they cause symptoms typical of addiction such as withdrawal and tolerance. In the case of someone like Tiger Woods who has chronic pain, they might need a higher dose of medication over time because their body becomes adjusted to the drug in their system and it has less of an effect. Developing a tolerance can lead to people taking more of the drug than their physician recommends or even getting multiple prescriptions to help them alleviate their pain. People who regularly take opioids tend to experience withdrawal symptoms if they attempt to quit or minimize their use. They develop flu-like symptoms that can cause diarrhea, vomiting, intense muscle aches, cramping, depression and a number of other reactions. Both withdrawal and tolerance are characteristic of an addiction and they make it very difficult for opioid users to quit. Stories like that of Tiger Woods’ arrest are just part of the bigger problem of America’s reliance on powerful painkillers that needs to be resolved to prevent more instances of addiction and overdose.