The exact cause of Whitney Houston’s death is still under investigation, but her long history of drug abuse indicates that she may be another celebrity whose privileged life was cut short by addiction. Based on the contents of her hotel room, authorities are already speculating that prescription drug abuse may have played a role in her death. In just the past few years, Michael Jackson, Heath Ledger, Brittany Murphy and Anna Nicole Smith lost their lives to prescription drug overdoses. Over the decades, other iconic stars including Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland died prematurely because of prescription drug abuse.
Tabloid newspapers and website are kept busy these days by the high number of celebrities struggling with prescription drug abuse while reality shows like “Celebrity Rehab” chronicle their recovery. One unfortunate side effect of the focus on celebrity drug abuse is that it deflects from the reality of prescription drug abuse. The problem is one that crosses all economic and social lines. Addiction is not limited to wealthy celebrities – the majority of people who require treatment for addiction are working people with families and financial responsibilities. The true face of addiction looks a lot like your neighbor, co-worker or family member. Prescription drug abuse touches everyone from high school kids who have their whole future ahead of them to senior citizens who should be enjoying their retirement.
The majority of the news reports surrounding Houston’s tragic death spotlights the legacy of her musical career, missing the opportunity to educate the public about the prescription drug crisis in America. The CDC reports that an unintentional prescription drug overdose death occurs every 19 minutes and that prescription drug abuse is the fastest growing drug problem in the nation. The spike in prescription drug abuse has been attributed to a class of painkillers called opioids that includes OxyContin, Vicodin, Percocet and Fentanyl. For every overdose death related to opioid drugs, nine people are admitted to substance abuse treatment centers for opioid dependency.
Despite the enormity of America’s prescription drug abuse problem, most health care providers receive minimal training about the risks of prescription drug. Several agencies of the federal government are currently attempting to educate both physicians and the public about the risks of prescription drug abuse. It’s understandable that the nation is now mourning the loss of Whitney Houston’s great talent. At the same time, it’s unfortunate that there isn’t more media focus on the equally tragic prescription drug overdoses that occur every 19 minutes.