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Tiger Woods DUI Shines a Light on Prescription Drug Dangers

Early Monday morning, champion golfer Tiger Woods was found asleep at the wheel of his Mercedes-Benz in Jupiter, Florida. He was arrested on a suspected DUI (according to the police report, Woods had to be woken up by officers in his running car and appeared confused, slurring his speech and unable to complete standard sobriety check tasks like standing up on one leg).

But here’s the catch: the arrest report also states that Woods agreed to a breathalyzer and urine test and blew a 0.000. The actual cause of Woods’ confusion and vehicular impropriety, according to the golfer, was a combination of prescription drugs he was taking for the various back surgeries he’s had. “I want the public to know that alcohol was not involved,” wrote Woods in a statement posted to his Instagram account. “What happened was an unexpected reaction to prescribed medications. I didn’t realize the mix of medications had affected me so strongly.”

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There’s still a lot we don’t know about this particular case, including whether or not Woods had intentionally abused his medicines. But he has had four different back surgeries since 2014, including one last month. And we do know that doctors have a proclivity to hand out powerful painkillers to post-surgery patients—a practice that has come under increasing scrutiny in the wake of the U.S. opioid overdose epidemic.

Woods’ story highlights the changing nature of motor vehicle and road safety problems. While drunk driving is still a major issue, the share of DUIs, injuries, and fatal car crashes involving prescription medications and other types of drugs has risen sharply in recent years.

Earlier this month, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that 1.2 million young people across the globe die from preventable causes, and that road injuries were the number one killer of those aged 10 to 19 in 2015. Most of the victims were pedestrians, cyclists, and other passers-by rather than drivers themselves.

Health care professionals and insurance companies have been looking to promote non-prescription forms of pain therapy in an effort to curb addiction in recent years. For instance, health insurer Cigna reported in April that it had cut its plan holders’ use of opioids by 12% in just one year by promoting alternative treatments and putting other addiction-fighting safety measures into place.