Until a full toxicology report comes back, we won’t know what drugs were in Tiger Woods’ system on Memorial Day at the time of his DUI arrest.
But regardless, the images and dashcam video of the stumbling, incoherent 41-year-old by the side of a Jupiter road are emblematic of a growing and disturbing national trend: drug-impaired driving.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in the last two decades, while the overall number of annual traffic fatalities has trended downward (nearly 36,000 in 1993 to just more than 32,000 in 2015), the number of those involving drugs has sharply increased: There were around 1,700 in 1993 as compared with more than 6,600 in 2015.
Experts cite two likely causes for the rise: more states having some form of legalized marijuana; and the national opioid epidemic.
At the scene, Woods, who has undergone four spinal surgeries (including the most recent one in April), told officers that he had prescriptions for multiple medications — the first two of which were listed (and misspelled) in the police report as the anti-inflammatory drugs Torux and Vioxx (banned in the U.S. since 2004), as well as the opiate pain reliever Vicodin. (A fourth medication — listed as “soloxex or solorex” — either doesn’t exist or is from outside the U.S. as no pharmacology experts have been able to identify it.)
Dr. Raju Mangrola, medical director of Lighthouse Detox at Jupiter Medical Center, explained that combining any kind of medications — but especially those that are “sedating in nature” — can result in unintended consequences.
“Often, when people are prescribed painkilling medication, they’re also prescribed a muscle relaxer and an anti-anxiety medication such as Valium. Taking these kinds of drugs in combination compounds the effect of each of them.”
One of the potential risks that Mangrola said he’s seen with powerful painkilling opiates is that they can cause “behavior dis-control.”
In other words, folks can unintentionally act in ways that they’re not even aware of.
Another reason why people sometimes get in trouble with opiates, Mangrola said, is that “they’re often powerfully fast-acting, but not necessarily long-acting. People will reach for them first in order to get immediate relief. But taking them too closely together exacerbates the potential for negative reactions.”
To reduce your risk for accidentally misusing painkilling opiates, muscle relaxers, anti-anxiety meds, sleep aids or any other sedatives, Mangrola offered the following tips:
▪ Be sure your doctor(s) and pharmacist(s) know all the medications you’re taking so you can avoid hazardous narcotic interactions.
▪ The first few times you take a new medication, do so only while at home in order to gauge how well or poorly you tolerate it.
▪ For pain relief, always take the least powerful medication first and see if that works.
▪ Utilize other, nonpharmaceutical modalities for relieving pain and/or anxiety.
Options for reducing pain without pills can include high-intensity laser therapy, physiatry, platelet-rich plasma (PRP) treatment, stem-cell therapy and other interventional-medicine injections.
For anxiety reduction, consider mental-health counseling, yoga, breathing exercises, visualization and meditation.
Steve Dorfman writes for The Palm Beach Post.