Drug Warriors Capitalizing on Whitney Houston's Death

Despite the lack of evidence to establish that Whitney Houston's death was caused by drugs or alcohol, the drug warriors are out in force. The latest to join them and capitalize on Whitney Houston's death is White House Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske, who calls her death "a teachable moment."

According to the Coroner's office, there were fewer pills in her hotel room than in the average person's medicine cabinet -- his included.

Earlier Monday, the L.A. coroner’s office confirmed prescription pill bottles were found in Houston’s hotel room. But the amount was "less than my medicine cabinet," L.A. County Assistant Chief Coroner Ed Winter said.

No one knows how she died. Drugs and alcohol may have played no role whatsoever. Her past addiction may have played no role. Her family and friends say she hadn't used illegal drugs in 3 years and no illegal drugs were found in the room. Multiple people were in and out of the room, from security guards to family members to personal assistants. Any of those people could have ordered or brought alcohol to the room for their own use.

Regardless of how Whitney Houston died, there is no just cause for a ramped-up war on prescription medications or illegal drugs. According to the Global Commission on Drug Policy, as reported by Reuters at the time,

There are 250 million users of illicit drugs worldwide, with less than a 10th of them classified as dependent... according to U.N. estimates quoted in the report.

The report also found that"decriminalization initiatives do not result in significant increases in drug use."

To use one celebrity's death, which may or may not have been drug and alcohol related, to instill fear of legitimate medications that help millions of others with anxiety or pain, is irresponsible.

Even if there was alcohol in her system (and especially if it was residual from the night before), and even if she took Xanax to reduce her anxiety about attending a party that night, the most that is appropriate is to warn people about following the instructions on their medication inserts and pill bottles. Don't use it as a soapbox to claim people are taking too many pills or in danger of dying.

Until the toxicology reports are in, there is no cautionary tale in Whitney Houston's death. There is only the tragedy of a woman whose life ended too soon.

What's next? Will some member of Congress introduce the Whitney Houston Prescription Drug Limitation Act telling doctors how many pills they can prescribe and how often, regardless of their judgment as to an individual patient's needs?

On a related note: The media Hall of Shame award today (so far) goes to the site that published photos of "the death tub." What's next? The toilet in the room?

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    To He[[ with Kerlikowski (5.00 / 1) (#3)
    by shoephone on Tue Feb 14, 2012 at 04:52:38 PM EST
    His comments are patronizing and, ultimately, irrelevant. Whitney Houston was a woman in deep emotional pain, and people who find no other outlet for ending the pain will self-medicate, over self-medicate, and sometimes kill themselves by whatever method is available. And, yes, I know we don't have all the facts yet. When we do, Kerlikowski's comments will still be obnoxious.  

    This is simply another episode in the exploitation of a tragedy to sell papers and sell political talking points.

    About ten years ago, when I was still fulltime painting, I was asked by another contractor if I wanted the job of painting Kerlikowski's house in Seattle, because he was doing the finish work and could get me that gig if I wanted it. I declined because I was swamped with other jobs, but I never regretted being in the position of having to turn it down.

    It's telling that former SPD Chief Norm Stamper has emerged as a staunch advocate for overturning our outmoded drug laws, while Kerlikoski has ended up as Obama's Chief of the Drug Wars.

    Maybe the Drug Czar - and can I say that (5.00 / 1) (#6)
    by Anne on Tue Feb 14, 2012 at 06:10:37 PM EST
    I hate the whole "czar" thing? - could find a way to eliminate the unending stream of prescription drug ads that are blasted at us every day: drugs for depression, drugs for ED, asthma, acid reflux, osteoporosis, social anxiety, incontinence, migraines, arthritis, dry eye, fibromyalgia - is it any wonder that people think that no matter what their problem, there's a pill for it?

    But, god forbid, when people take the drugs - the legal, prescribed-by-a-doctor drugs, and something bad happens, well - somehow, it's all our fault.

    I don't know what killed Whitney Houston; that she wasn't taking illegal drugs means nothing - the legal ones are just as potent and just as dangerous.

    But, really - if the drug czar wants to help, he should go to the drug lobby and Congress and do something about ending the equivalence between prescription drug ads and ads for cereal and energy bars.

    Hey, easy on the acid reflux ads. (none / 0) (#7)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Tue Feb 14, 2012 at 06:24:22 PM EST
    Those little proton pump inhibitor pills have changed my life. Really.

    Some of the drugs do great good (none / 0) (#14)
    by gyrfalcon on Wed Feb 15, 2012 at 02:00:26 AM EST
    the advertising to drum up patient pressure on their docs not so much.

    Amen and (none / 0) (#13)
    by gyrfalcon on Wed Feb 15, 2012 at 01:59:26 AM EST
    well said.

    I will be more serious. (5.00 / 1) (#10)
    by Gerald USN Ret on Tue Feb 14, 2012 at 08:11:43 PM EST
    I loved Whitney Houston.  Her death and the myriad of events that preceded it were and are tragic.
    I never saw her perform live, but I did see her Aunt, Dionne Warwick, twice.  Whitney could do 3 octaves well.  Dionne could handle 3 1/2 to 4.

    Whitney and Bobby Brown together were a 4 alarm tragedy.

    We can argue from morning to night about drug enforcement and rights and the laws, but most will say that there is one obvious conclusion despite the money that is spent on drug enforcement.

    Drugs are getting more powerful, more plentiful and easier to get.

    I believe that legalizing drugs will cut down on violent deaths among drug dealers and gangs, but drug use and the resulting deaths among users will increase.  Yes, I know the reasoning is that if we stop spending so much money futilely on enforcement and incarceration, then we can spend more money treating.  I can only say that the very rich who can get all the treatment in the world still die.
    I don't know how to calculate the net effect.  More or less deaths total?  Perhaps someone with access to all the numbers and tuned in to the actual effective treatment psychology could estimate the effect.

    J, my point was that (5.00 / 1) (#20)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Wed Feb 15, 2012 at 11:08:02 AM EST
    she was staying in the hotel for, what, 2? 3? nights? A week? Whatever, it's not her home.

    The comparison between what she took with her on her visit to the LA hotel and what the average person has in their home means, well, nothing.

    She had fewer bottles of pills in her hotel room than the average person has in their home medicine cabinets? Great, but it means nothing.

    She probably had fewer toothbrushes in her hotel room than the average person has in their home medicine cabinet as well.

    Probably fewer bars of soap, tubes of toothpaste and boxes of spaghetti in her hotel room than the average person has in their home too.

    Well this is too true (none / 0) (#23)
    by Militarytracy on Wed Feb 15, 2012 at 12:37:21 PM EST
    The pharmacy that travels with me because of my severe asthma all lined up in a hotel room when Josh is having surgery is pretty scary.  The last thing that anyone should assume is that every prescription in my hotel room is swimming around my bloodstream all at the same time, or that any of them are.  I have been in San Antonio under a lot of stress due to Josh's surgery and having no asthma symptoms and forgotten to take ALL of my daily prescriptions for two days sometimes.

    Oh. Bathtubs Kill? (none / 0) (#1)
    by Gerald USN Ret on Tue Feb 14, 2012 at 04:43:11 PM EST

    Yes they can (none / 0) (#16)
    by smott on Wed Feb 15, 2012 at 06:47:16 AM EST
    Especially hot baths. Especially hot tubs/whirlpools.

    Go to any gym or fitness center and note the cautionary notice on the wall regarding hot water temps and the possibility of BP lowering dangerously which could cause loss of consciousness.

    And that applies to  otherwise healthy sober people.

    I'd guess it might be as simple as Xanax (certainly could be exacerbated by alcohol even a small amount) lowering Houston's BP such that a hot bath could tip her over to unconsciousness.

    So yes, bathrubs can kill.


    that is the cautionary tale (none / 0) (#19)
    by nyjets on Wed Feb 15, 2012 at 07:53:11 AM EST
    People have to be careful when they take certain drugs and do certain activities.
    If you are going to take a drug like Xanax, be careful what you are going to do latter. It can be dangerous.

    Agreed (none / 0) (#8)
    by MyLeftMind on Tue Feb 14, 2012 at 07:06:25 PM EST
    Until the toxicology reports are in, there is no cautionary tale in Whitney Houston's death. There is only the tragedy of a woman whose life ended too soon

    If there's a cautionary tale to be told, I'd rather hear a feminist analysis of the what happens to women in our society, even those who are deemed successful.

    I'm sure you can find (none / 0) (#9)
    by Jeralyn on Tue Feb 14, 2012 at 07:15:33 PM EST
    that discussion somewhere, but not in this thread.

    Really? (none / 0) (#15)
    by gyrfalcon on Wed Feb 15, 2012 at 02:01:44 AM EST
    That explains Michael Jackson, Heath Ledger, on and on and on?

    Reminder that (none / 0) (#11)
    by Jeralyn on Tue Feb 14, 2012 at 11:29:44 PM EST
    name-calling is not allowed here. A comment referring to Mr. Kerzikowske with an offensive label has been deleted.

    Gee, with no signs of trauma (none / 0) (#12)
    by gyrfalcon on Wed Feb 15, 2012 at 01:57:52 AM EST
    on the body, according to the ME's office, it's pretty clear there was no "slip and fall" involved here.  She did not also just "fall asleep" because people who aren't already intoxicated or under the influence of some drug wake up if they can't breathe because they're under water.

    I'm no fan of our drug laws or the DEA behavior and policy, but this case is not a good example of the harmlessness of prescription drug abuse.

    Especially (5.00 / 2) (#17)
    by jbindc on Wed Feb 15, 2012 at 07:21:51 AM EST
    As Ms. Houston, as she herself admitted, had years and years of abusing cocaine and slcohol and god knows what else.  Those years of abuse take physical tolls on a body and severely weakens such things as the cardiovascular system.

    Even taking prescription drugs under the care of a doctor in those cases can be more dangerous than when a non abuser takes them.

    We won' t know for weeks, but no one will be surprised if drugs contributed to her death.


    The crassness should NOT surprise anyone (none / 0) (#18)
    by SeeEmDee on Wed Feb 15, 2012 at 07:24:39 AM EST
    With the rise in interest in drug law reform, in no small part due to generational differences (younger voters are wary of government pronouncements on illicit drugs, as in many cases they have direct experience that belies the propaganda) and the economy (drug prohibitions are gross drains on an economy, produce nothing but expensive-to-maintain prisons, and cannot be supported during severe economic downturns, as our grandparents and great-grandparents learned during the Great Depression) it will become ever harder for those who justify continued prohibition, as in many cases they are the only ones who benefit, while everyone else pays for it...and them.

    So now the problem for the professional, paid  prohibitionist is how to maintain the bureaucratic empire that provides their paychecks. As it became obvious that the rising tide of younger voters meant eventual cannabis re-legalization, and that would knock the cornerstone out from under the edifice of drug prohibition, they began to search furtively for a means that would be more palatable to the public.

    First, they came up with the idea of emphasizing 'treatment'...for cannabis users, mainly, who don't really need it. That didn't sell very well, so now they're running this BS about prescription drugs up the flagpole to see who salutes it.

    But nothing can stop the economic steamroller that's inexorably going to crush drug prohibition, because just as alcohol Prohibition was too expensive to maintain during a period of universal fiscal suffering, we can no longer afford this 'rich man's hobby' because we aren't rich anymore, either.