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Entries in Whitney Houston (3)

Friday
Mar232012

How Cocaine Contributed to Whitney Houston's Death

ABC/ Ida Mae Astute(NEW YORK) -- In an infamous 2002 interview with ABC News' Diane Sawyer, pop icon Whitney Houston candidly spoke about her abuse of drugs such as cocaine, which, along with heart disease, factored into her accidental drowning last month, according to the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office.

"It has been [alcohol, marijuana, pills, cocaine] at times," Houston told Sawyer in the frank 2002 interview that delved headlong into her addiction struggles.  "Nobody makes me do anything I don't want to do.  It's my decision; the biggest devil is me.  I'm my best friend and my worst enemy."

In a statement to ABC News Thursday, the Los Angeles County Coroner's chief, Craig Harvey, outlined the findings in the office's preliminary toxicology report.

"We had approximately a 60 percent occlusion in the arteries, in the narrowing of the arteries," Harvey said.  "So, that condition, complicated by the chronic cocaine use, all combined to result in her drowning.  The final cause of death has been established as drowning due to atherosclerotic heart disease and cocaine use."

Atherosclerotic heart disease is a build-up of plaque that narrows the small blood vessels that supply blood and oxygen to the heart, according to the National Institutes of Health.  It is not known how long the singer had the condition.

Despite the coroner's announcement, questions remain about the nature of the pop star's death after she was found "underwater and unconscious" in the bathtub in her room at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Feb. 11.  It is still unclear how much her chronic drug abuse contributed to her death at 48, and whether she was already incapacitated when she drowned.

Dr. Michael Fishbein of the UCLA Medical Center, who spoke with ABC News regarding the coroner's office report, explained the short- and long-term effects that cocaine has on the heart, and speculated about what might have happened in Houston's final moments.

"The immediate effect of cocaine is that it interferes with the electrical system of the heart," Fishbein said.  "An analogy might be a swimming pool pump.  You can have a perfectly good pump, but if you cut the electrical cord, the pump stops working.  If the heart stops pumping blood, and all the organs are deprived of oxygen.  The tissue dies and the person dies."

Cocaine also increases the demand for oxygen, as it increases heart rate and blood pressure.

"The long-term effect is that cocaine causes the heart to be enlarged, which increases the risk of sudden death," Fishbein said.  "It also causes scarring in the heart, which increases the risk of a sudden cardiac death, and it causes accelerated atherosclerosis, or a hardening of the arteries, which we associate with high blood pressure and smoking."

When occlusion in the arteries reaches 75 percent narrowing, it is typically considered dangerous, but, Fishbein says, 60 percent occlusion for a woman of 48 is above average.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Monday
Feb132012

Whitney Houston's Death Highlights Accidental Drug Overdosing

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Speculation surrounding the cause of pop star Whitney Houston's death highlights what many forensic experts have known for years -- many prescription drug overdoses happen because people fail to realize how deadly combining medications can be.

An estimated 27,000 people died from accidental drug overdoses in the U.S. in 2007 -- one death every 19 minutes -- according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The U.S. death rate from drug overdosing has tripled in the past decade, making prescription drug abuse the nation's fastest-growing drug problem.

Some of the commonly abused drugs include pain medications, anti-anxiety medications and stimulants. Most drug overdoses involve some combination of these medications, and some include alcohol.

Bottles of prescription drugs said to have been found in Houston's hotel room included Xanax, Valium and Ativan -- all of which are prescribed to treat anxiety.

According to TMZ.com, officials said Houston had water in her lungs at the time of her death, but they haven't determined how much water was present previously, so they can't yet say whether the singer, whose body was found in a bathtub with her face reportedly underwater, drowned.

Dr. Cyril Wecht, a forensic pathologist and former coroner in Allegheny County, Pa., said if Houston did drown, she would likely have been heavily under the influence of numerous drugs to not wake up after she slipped underwater. He explained that the body has a physiologic need to breathe and will respond reflexively if the head is submerged underwater.

"If you are deeply unconscious to the point of a deep stupor, then it is conceivable that there was a heavy concentration of drugs," he said. Wecht said he had performed about 300 autopsies in the past year, and a significant percentage of the deaths stemmed from drug overdoses.

The average number of drugs involved in those cases, he said, was about five or six, which were mixed.

Addiction experts believe that Houston's struggles with substance abuse may have played a role in her death, and although Houston had entered rehab multiple times, she likely could not break the cycle of relapse and recovery that traps many addicts.

Relapse is very common, especially with alcohol and cocaine, which Houston admitted she'd abused.

"What often happens with illegal drug addiction is that the treatment involves legal drugs, which can be even more challenging to quit," said Alesandra Rain, a co-founder of Point of Return, an organization that helps people recover from prescription drug addiction. "Because Xanax is legal, it gives much the false sense that they are safe."

Previous studies that looked at the relapse rate among addicts found that between one-third and two-thirds of people who sought treatment for cocaine addiction used the drug again. A number of studies also found that most alcoholics who were in treatment programs drank again.

Studies also suggest that some people may be genetically predisposed to addiction. Experts can distinguish who may be at greater risk for addiction by looking at a patient's family history and monitoring the patient's reaction to the medication, said Dr. Daniel Angres, medical director of resurrection addiction services at Rush University College of Medicine. Many spiral into prescription drug abuse without realizing it.

"People may go to different doctors and receive different [medications], or even go to the same doctor and add on," said Angres. "These things have significant potential effects."

According to TMZ, Houston was seen leaving two different doctors' offices days before her death.

Copyright 2012 Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Monday
Feb132012

Experts: Substance Abuse May Have Played Role in Whitney Houston's Death

Jason Merritt/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Although full details surrounding Whitney Houston's death are not yet known, forensic experts not involved with the case speculate that the singer may have died from an accidental overdose.

According to TMZ, officials said the singer had water in her lungs at the time of her death, but they haven't determined how much water was present before they can say whether or not she drowned.  The singer's body was found in the bathtub of her hotel room on Saturday, reportedly with her face underwater.

Dr. Cyril Wecht, a forensic pathologist and former coroner of Allegheny County, Penn., said if Houston did drown, she would likely have been heavily under the influence of numerous drugs to not wake up after she slipped underwater.  He explained that the body has a physiologic need to breathe and will respond reflexively if the head is submerged underwater.

"If you are deeply unconscious to the point of a deep stupor, then it is conceivable that there was a heavy concentration of drugs," he said.  Wecht said he has performed about 300 autopsies in the past year and a significant percentage of them have involved overdose deaths.

The average number of drugs involved in those cases, he said, was about five or six that were mixed.

Addiction experts also believe Houston's struggles with substance abuse played a role in her death, and although she entered rehab multiple times, she was likely unable to break the cycle of relapse and recovery that traps many addicts.

Relapse is very common, especially with alcohol and cocaine, which Houston admitted abusing.

"Addiction is considered a chronically relapsing disorder," said Warren Bickel, director of the Advanced Recovery Research Center at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute.

Xanax and Valium were reportedly found in Houston's hotel room on the night she died.  Both drugs are commonly used to treat anxiety and are also used during substance abuse treatment. They belong to the drug class known as benzodiazepines, which can be highly addicting.

"What often happens with illegal drug addiction is that the treatment involves legal drugs, which can be even more challenging to quit," said Alesandra Rain, co-founder of Point of Return, an organization that helps with recovery from prescription drug addiction. "Because Xanax is legal, it gives many the false sense that they are safe."

The Los Angeles County Coroner's Office said it is awaiting toxicology reports before determining a cause of death, which could take six to eight weeks. 

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio