12.06.09

Tiger and Pills

The golfer’s ability to play through pain made him a hero. But now his prescription drug use has been linked to his accident, sex habits, and, Gerald Posner reports, prompted a doctor’s warning.

The golfer’s ability to play through pain made him a hero. But now his prescription-drug use has been linked to his accident, sex habits, and, Gerald Posner reports, prompted a doctor’s warning.

Florida police have not yet released a full report from Tiger Woods' immediately infamous SUV crash on November 27, but the most curious detail to emerge came from a neighbor, Jarius Adams, who reached the accident scene almost immediately, dashed into his sister’s house to call 911, then returned.

"At that point, he was, uh, he [Tiger Woods] was snoring," Adams told the police.

"He was snoring?" asked the investigator.

"He was actually snoring."

At least one physician was concerned enough to directly raise with Woods the potential of addiction and his need to wean off the pain pills.

Trauma doctors I interviewed said that Woods should have been hyper-alert because of the adrenaline rush naturally associated with such unexpected excitement and stress. Various reports have suggested that Woods’ crash was influenced by prescription medication, taken for an injury. But one law-enforcement officer, familiar with the investigation, tells The Daily Beast that police on the scene suspected that Woods was disoriented and loopy because he had taken Ambien, a highly popular prescription sleeping pill. A person familiar with Woods’ medical treatment two years ago tells me that Woods has used prescription sedatives, when injured, to help him sleep.

Ambien has increasingly emerged as a cause of impaired driving, best evidenced by the celebrated 2006 car accident in which Congressman Patrick Kennedy smashed into a Capitol Hill traffic barrier at 3 a.m. Despite the talk of pain pills and sedatives, the Florida Highway Patrol did not administer any drug or alcohol tests to Tiger, telling the Orlando Sentinel that it did not have the “probable cause” for such tests.

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But the incident also raises questions about Woods, and his pill habits. The suggestion of an Ambien link to the 2:30 a.m. crash comes on the heels of reports that one of Woods’ mistresses told friends that she and Tiger liked to have “crazy” sex in an “Ambien haze.” Meanwhile, a source familiar with Tiger’s medical treatment in the latter half of 2007 tells me that Tiger’s regular dosing of painkillers was “potentially a problem” during those six months because of the addictive nature of his medications. That coincides with Woods tearing his left knee ACL, a common athlete injury, in July 2007. Woods and his advisers decided against surgery then and instead he continued playing and winning on the PGA Tour.

As far as Tiger’s advisers and family were concerned, the potential problem, this source stressed, was more focused on whether the prescription pills might take a minute edge off Tiger’s reaction time and somehow adversely affect his game. But at least one physician was concerned enough to directly raise with Woods the potential of addiction and his need to wean off the pain pills.

After surgery for injuries—Woods has endured four operations on his left knee—almost every patient gets a prescription for painkillers. And every athlete plays through pain at some point in a professional career. It’s part of sports. Cortisone shots, pain pills, ice packs, physical therapy—it’s how athletes prevent injuries from sidelining them. On any given Sunday in the NFL, a post-game locker room looks like a veritable pharmacy, with painkillers seemingly being popped like M&Ms. But the downside remains omnipresent. The closest thing football has to a Tiger Woods, Brett Favre, battled a Vicodin addiction early in his career, and had to check himself into a rehab facility.

So it’s completely normal that Tiger Woods used painkillers through his discomfort, and completely appropriate that doctors worried about him developing an addiction. Especially since playing through the pain is part of his legacy. The 2008 U.S. Open is such a case. Tiger had torn his ACL the previous year. What no one knew at the time of the U.S. Open was that just a couple of weeks before, Tiger had suffered a double stress fracture in his left tibia, known popularly as the shinbone. Although his doctors advised he go on crutches for three weeks, followed by a month of rest, he refused. His swing coach, Hank Haney, later told a reporter that, “Every night, I kept thinking there was no chance he's going to play. He had to stop in his tracks for 30 seconds walking from the dining room table to the refrigerator.”

But not only did Tiger limp and grimace through 91 holes, including sudden death, but he won one of the most exciting Opens in memory. That he did so on pain medications was just another reminder to sports writers and fans that he was a living legend.

I asked Tiger’s agent, Mark Steinberg, about Woods’ prescription drug history. His response came by email on Friday:

“As any doctor would attest, patients are universally prescribed medication for bone fractures and following major orthopedic surgery. Tiger's care has been managed with especially attentive observation by leading medical professionals, and others simply aren’t in a responsible position to make any assessments. Most importantly, the specifics of his medical care ought to be private, which is why unending Internet innuendo about his condition is so irresponsible and offensive. For amateurs to make speculative judgments about the quantity, propriety, or duration of a patient’s care is reprehensible.”

In some ways this answer sounded similar to part of the statement that was first issued under Tiger’s name after the car accident. In that case, they said, "This is a private matter, and I want to keep it that way. Although I understand there is curiosity, the many false, unfounded, and malicious rumors that are currently circulating about my family and me are irresponsible.”

When I followed up with specific questions about Tiger’s 2007 regimen, he did not answer, nor did anyone else in the Woods camp.

*Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Tiger’s swing coach is Hank Hanley. His name is Hank Haney.

Gerald Posner is The Daily Beast's chief investigative reporter. He's the award-winning author of 10 investigative nonfiction bestsellers, on topics ranging from political assassinations, to Nazi war criminals, to 9/11, to terrorism. His latest book, Miami Babylon: Crime, Wealth and Power—A Dispatch from the Beach, was published in October. He lives in Miami Beach with his wife, the author Trisha Posner.