How did the media get it THAT wrong about Tiger Woods? Literally dozens of news outlets nationwide listed marijuana first as the reason the golfing great was found asleep at the wheel on the side of the road in Palm Beach County in May.
Woods, 41, had Vicodin, Dilaudid, Xanax, Ambien and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) in his system, according to the results made public Monday now that the criminal investigation into Woods’ case is no longer active.
But Big Pharma -- I think of it more as Big Opioids -- rolled out its beanstalk-sized PR machine to deflect media attention as far away from pills as it could get. There were "traces" of marijuana in Woods' system, according to laboratory tests. That's the THC.
Traces. The official report said traces.
Yet, marijuana ended up getting the big play:
- "Tiger Woods had five drugs in his system – including marijuana" (Miami Herald)
- "Tiger Woods had marijuana, painkillers in system at ..." (Associated Press)
- "Two of five drugs in Tiger Woods' system, including marijuana, banned by ..." (The Guardian)
- "Tiger Woods had marijuana and painkillers in system on arrest ..." (Birmingham Mail)
- "Tiger Woods Had Weed In His System During DUI Arrest" (Greenrush Daily)
- "Tiger Woods had THC, four other drugs in system ..." (National Post)
As I said, there were headlines like these Tuesday from literally dozens of news sources.
The move to demonize marijuana in a high profile arrest like Tiger Woods' is straight out of the opioid manufacturers’ playbook. Facing a raft of lawsuits and a threat to their profits, pharmaceutical companies are pushing the line that the epidemic stems not from the wholesale prescribing of powerful painkillers -- essentially, heroin in pill form -- but their misuse by some of those who then become addicted.
And when they've got somebody like Tiger Woods who might have smoked a joint some hours earlier, who even has a popular strain of marijuana named after him ... eureka!
In court filings, drug companies are smearing the estimated two million people hooked on their products as criminals to blame for their own addiction. Some of those in its grip break the law by buying drugs on the black market or switch to heroin. But too often that addiction began by following the advice of a doctor who, in turn, was following the drug manufacturers' instructions.
Big Pharma gets away with what it does because the health system in this country, unlike other countries, is run as an industry, not a service. Its bottom line is profits, not health.
Opioid pills are a lot cheaper and easier than providing other forms of treatment for pain, like physical therapy or psychiatry. As Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said last year, “It’s an epidemic because we have a business model for it. Follow the money. Look at the amount of pills they shipped in to certain parts of our state. It was a business model.”
President Trump’s commission on opiods got it right. It noted in a report that opioids is not an epidemic caused by those caught in its grasp. “We have an enormous problem that is often not beginning on street corners; it is starting in doctors' offices and hospitals in every state in our nation,” it said.
The explosion in opioid use in the past two decades has been described as one of the great mistakes of modern medicine. From 1999 to 2014, sales of opioids quadrupled in the U.S -- and so did the number of opioid-related overdose deaths. Death rates now rival those of AIDS during the 1990s, with overdoses from prescription opioids and heroin killing more than 27,000 people a year.
State legislatures have looked to Washington for leadership in curbing opioids. They didn't get much from President Obama or Congress last year, though legislation approving $1 billion for addiction treatment did pass.
Also in 2016, Tom Frieden, then director of the Centers for Disease Control, made a statement with guidelines urging doctors not to prescribe opioids as a first step for chronic or routine pain. Good for him, I told the world at the time. Except, even that got political pushback in Congress where the power of the pharmaceutical lobby was not one bit diminished.
Understandably, athletes -- no strangers to pain -- are the most frequent victims of opioid abuse. Nowhere is this growing epidemic more evident than in the National Football League, with two huge lawsuits recently brought against the league. The lawsuits allege, among other things, that the overuse of narcotic pain medications has significantly contributed to the problems of concussion, CTE, addiction, and some of the other devastating medical problems players are facing at the end of their careers.
Not only professional athletes have problems caused by easily obtainable narcotic pain medications -- this is also a serious issue among high school and college athletes.
Although traces of unprescribed marijuana were found in Tiger Woods’ system, the cocktail of addictive, prescribed drugs is the real cause for concern. The opioid epidemic is happening right now.
Athletes in particular are at risk because of the frequency this medication is prescribed. More and more professional athletes have opened up about their addiction to opioid painkillers. Medical marijuana, they say, would be welcome in the sporting community. It’s fair to wonder if Woods shares a similar sentiment.
Medical cannabis has also proven to be a safer alternative for anxiety and sleep medication as well.
Does anyone really believe the marijuana in Woods’ system was as harmful as the legal drugs he had been prescribed and was self-medicating?
I'm going to say no.
And while I'm at it, I'm also going to say I wish the media were less inclined to help Pharma play games.