Whitney Houston’s Death and Why it Still Matters

The mystery has been officially “solved.” Whitney Houston’s death was caused by “accidental drowning” from the effects of cocaine use and heart disease.

Speculation about her death had gone viral after the 38-year old singer was found dead and submerged in her bathtub at the Beverly Hilton hotel on February 11. The Los Angeles County Coroner’s preliminary report, released over a month after the incident, finally furnished the missing details of the story.

The Details of How it happened

The coronary office provides a rather vague explanation of the two main contributory factors: cocaine use and heart disease. It leads to the question fans and journalists are asking: How does it all tie together?

Here’s how:

The investigation found a 60% occlusion in the arteries, the blood vessels that provide oxygen to the heart. This was due to atherosclerosis, a condition where plaque builds up in the vessels and narrows it. The condition is caused by various risk factors, among them stress and chronic cocaine use.

The report also showed there was “an acute dose” of cocaine in the singer’s system, which led to the belief that the singer ingested the drug shortly before her death. Not only that, but Chief Coroner Craig Harvey stated that the results suggest chronic usage of cocaine.

Since cocaine is a stimulant, it increases the heart rate, making the heart work harder, and subsequently increasing the need for more oxygen. For example, after a hard workout, you find yourself breathing heavily. Likewise, your heart needs more oxygen if it’s expected to work faster.

But due to the clogged arteries, the oxygen cannot reach the heart as fast as the heart requires it. This dilemma could have caused abnormal heart rhythms that can lead to heart attack.

Michael Fishbein, pathologist of the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center told USAtoday that “Cocaine is known to cause sudden cardiac death.”

So the conclusion is this: Although drowning was the official cause of Houston’s death, substance abuse was the true cause.

What About the Prescription Drugs?

Before the report came out, it was widely rumored that alcohol combined with prescription pills caused the drowning. After all, prescription drugs such as Xanax were found in her hotel room, as well as signs of drinking.

Xanax, an anxiolytic, is a highly addictive CNS depressant. Overdose of Xanax or other CNS depressants can lead to an extremely low heartbeat, decreased breathing, and loss of consciousness. Use of CNS depressants with alcohol, another CNS depressant, can intensify the overdose effects.

If Houston took the prescription drugs with alcohol, and then took a soak in the tub, she very well could have lost consciousness and drowned.

However, the toxicology report stated that these substances “did not contribute to her death”, even though they found traces of Xanax and Benadryl—even marijuana—in her system.

Although the theory that Houston died from prescription drug overdose holds some validity, the high levels of cocaine found in her body undermines the probability of the belief.

The Uncertainty of the Case

Still, even with the details filled in, we’re not sure if they’re the right details—and this gives the pro-Xanax belief some credit.

Cardiologist Gina Lundberg told USAtoday that “It’s possible she fell asleep. Based on the fact that the coroner lists drowning first would suggest she was alive when she went under the water, so she didn’t have the heart attack first”.

First of all, the changes of just falling asleep in the bathtub are highly unlikely. Also, they believe she was on cocaine. Cocaine is a simulant, which means it speeds everything up, gives you energy, and keeps you awake.

Or, you could assume she fell asleep because she had taken too much Xanax.

It’s also interesting to note that the coroner’s report admitted that it did not know exactly whether or not she had a heart attack.

Is the Mystery Solved?

So is the mystery solved? Not exactly. There are still some holes that need to be filled in, missing links explained. Will it ever be completely figured out? Perhaps.

And then perhaps not.

Regardless of what caused the drowning, the conclusion still stays the same: her death was the result of her addiction. Be it cocaine, Xanax, alcohol, or all of the above, the cause of her death was substance abuse.

Does it really matter?

The results are out—who cares about the details—so can we just let her rest in peace? Figuring out exactly what caused her death isn’t going to change anything anyway. The country lost one of its brightest stars. She’s even had her funeral already. Let’s remember her legacy.

But I think it really matters. It matters to know what caused her death—not drowning—but drugs.

It matters because there are many others out there struggling with the same addictions, wrestling with the same drugs Whitney wrestled with. There are those out there who have been through detox, rehab, relapse—the whole cycle—and can relate to Whitney and learn from her.

By reading her story, they can realize that no, they’re not alone. And yes, there are consequences.

The effects of substances such as cocaine or prescription drugs go beyond just the euphoric feeling; the consequences impact your overall health. When overdosed, they can lead to fatal results, as it was in Whitney’s case.

What can I do?

Perhaps you find yourself in a similar situation to Whitney’s. But unlike Whitney, the ending does not have to be fatal. There is hope, even for the most heavily addicted. There can be a happy ending because recovery is possible.

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