White House drug czar Gil Kerlikowske called the death of singer Whitney Houston a “teachable moment” in addressing the problem of prescription drug abuse in the United States.
“I think it’s what we might call a teachable moment, when someone passes,” Kerlikowske told CBS News in an online video released Monday. “Particularly someone that was as highly thought of and was such an incredible performer as Whitney Houston.”
Kerlikowske, the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, said Houston’s Feb. 11 passing puts a spotlight on the issue of prescription drug use. The superstar had opened up in past interviews, admitting to problems with drugs including crack cocaine, but the Los Angeles County coroner has still not ruled on the cause of her death. Speculation has linked her death to the prescription anti-anxiety drug alprazolam, better know by the brand-name Xanax.
Houston was found dead Saturday at the Beverly Hilton hotel in Los Angeles. The music icon was 48.
“We can use this as a moment to help people understand and remember that there are literally billions of Americans suffering from this problem,” Kerlikowske said.
The nation’s top drug-policy enforcer told CBS that prescription drug use affects a “huge number” of people throughout the country and causes deaths in “very, very high numbers.”
“They’re coming right out of our medicine cabinets, and yet these drugs are as addictive and dangerous as any other drug,” he added.
Kerlikowske said Houston’s struggles with substance abuse highlight the fact that the issue spans all demographics and socioeconomic barriers.
He said that prescription drug abuse needs to be recognized as a disease that can be managed and treated with the right help.
Kerlikowske said that when he took office the problem was “not on the public’s mind,” but after a review that revealed the significance of the problem, President Obama released a strategy to deal with the issue by coordinating state, local and federal involvement.
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