Damn Shame

Whitney Houston Death: How Sane Drug Laws May Have Prevented It

American’s insane substance laws played a primary role in Houston’s downward spiral.

The toxicology reports are not yet in, but speculation that drugs were involved in Whitney Houston’s death are running rampant, and given her sad history of abuse, such thoughts cannot be totally discounted. Additionally, one report, from the hotel guest occupying the room above Houston’s in the Beverly Hilton hotel, states that she heard two loud thuds and an “urgent” male voice emanating from the room below 20 minutes before Houston’s body was discovered. First reports say her body showed no outward signs of foul play or trauma, and no one should be surprised if that voice turns out to have been that of a drug supplier.

Drug overdose, often called “accidental suicide,” is not only tragic but also ugly—very ugly. And no one, this writer included, wants to trash who once was perhaps the most beautiful and talented pop diva of her generation. But Whitney Houston’s death could be a teachable moment to a nation increasingly struggling with addiction—addiction (to myriad substances) that likely will only increase among the populace as the economy continues to sour.

If we can better understand how Houston’s life spiraled out of control due to her long-term drug abuse—no matter if drugs ultimately caused her untimely death or not—and what steps can be taken to curtail such tragedies, then perhaps we can use her death to finally begin to advocate for sane drug policies in this country. In this way maybe some degree of good can come out of this tragic loss.

Although the end abruptly came on Feb. 11 for Whitney Houston, she had in fact been dying slowly—killing herself virtually in full view of the entire world—for years, if not decades. And her death, like so many others’, is (to a large degree) attributable to our nation’s insane drug policies. Certainly folks in other countries die from substance abuse—Amy Winehouse immediately comes to mind—but policies that promote “harm reduction” over strictly punitive incarceration (which we stubbornly cling to in this country) puts many European nations far in front of us on this vexing issue.

Just as Winehouse’s death was from an accidental overdose of alcohol (compounded by a preexisting medical condition), drugs might not be the direct cause of Houston’s death, but the drug culture that has sprung up in America since the late ’60s certainly played the primary role, and that culture is a direct result of wrongheaded government policy and prohibition.

A vast amount of government-spent money in this country goes into drug interdiction (which has never worked and never will) instead of into sane treatment policies. While we have a seemingly never-ending supply of prison beds for drug sellers, treatment beds for drug abusers in this country are, and always have been, in very scant supply.

If sane drug policies were in place in America, Whitney Houston (and, yes, maybe even Michael Jackson, along with an untold number of others) might still be alive today.

Naifs were always puzzled by Houston’s marriage to Bobby Brown; many would have much preferred she’d tied the knot with some fresh-faced Harvard Business School grad who worked as a music executive and summered on Martha’s Vineyard. Problem is, she would have eaten alive such a lame dude. Brown was in her life probably for one main reason: it was thought he could handle her bad ass, help her control her addictions … but in the end he couldn’t, and that’s probably why he bailed. And he couldn’t because he didn’t have any societal or judicial help.

American courts are at last, finally, coming up with sane solutions … but oh so slowly and incrementally. What Brown needed, and millions of other American families still need, are drug courts invested with the power to invoke “coerced treatment.”

People out in the streets (even the beautiful streets of Beverly Hills) running amuck and getting higher than Charles Manson is not going to willing go into treatment. And usually, if interventions are done and they are forced into treatment, they bail at the first opportunity … think Lindsey Lohan, who now, due to the ravages of drugs, looks as though she’s going on 50.

What’s needed is a mechanism whereby concerned family members can get the assistance of the courts to prevent train wrecks before they happen. The problem is, we have a laissez-faire attitude in this country when it comes to drug abusers—but certainly not when it comes to drug traffickers. Why? Because that’s where the real money is: asset forfeitures.

The Drug Enforcement Administration partners with local police forces to fatten budgets with seizures from dealers. In effect, they’re doing what’s known in the streets as “fattin’ frogs for snakes.” They let dealers “get fat,” accumulate enough cash and goodies (cars, boats, planes, and jewelry) to make the bust worthwhile, and then knock them off. Gee, I wonder where all of those “confiscated” Rolex watches and other baubles and bangles go? Come on, grow up, will you?

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New laws (actually, they have been on the books in some jurisdictions for years) need to be enacted: “internal possession” laws. Then if a spouse or parent, with clear and compelling evidence, approaches a drug court and asks for help, the judge could order that a drug test be done. If the test comes back positive, the person could be charged with internal possession and sentenced to a period of treatment (all records of it would be forever sealed upon successful completion). If, upon release, people resume usage, they are again “coerced” into treatment … until it finally takes. It might take a few repeat visits, but trust me on this: it eventually works in almost all cases. In the other cases the failures usually die.

Cue the music for the American Civil Liberties Union (or another similar organization) to at this point rush in and declare such tactics as beyond the pale, a trampling on the constitutional rights of the individual. That is, until it becomes their loved one—their spouse, their son, their daughter—they’re attempting to save. Then it might be a different story. If such laws were presently on the books across the country, perhaps Whitney Houston—and hundreds of thousands of other addicted souls—might be still be alive today. Now we know what really killed Whitney.