Whitney Houston's Death Fuels Prescription Drug Fears

whitney houston two days before her deathMost of us reacted to news of Whitney Houston's death on Saturday night with anything but surprise. Dismay perhaps, but shock, no. Despite a recent attempt at a comeback, the pop legend's battles with addiction have been well-documented. And sadly, we can guess it was likely only a matter of time before her demons got the best of her. Early speculation pointed the finger at Houston's off and on addiction to cocaine, but the L.A. County Cornoner's office says it's "too early" to know what actually happened and won't have an official cause of death from toxicology reports for six to eight weeks. Nonetheless, it sounds like the culprit may have been a deadly cocktail of prescription drugs and alcohol.

Common, legal pharmaceuticals Lorazepam, Valium, Xanax, and a sleeping medication were all found in Houston's hotel room.


All of these drugs are used to treat anxiety and are also used during substance abuse treatment. Ironically, though, the drug class they belong to, benzodiazepines, can be highly addicting themselves. Just great, right?

ABC News spoke with Alesandra Rain, co-founder of Point of Return, an organization that helps with recovery from prescription drug addiction, who explained:

What often happens with illegal drug addiction is that the treatment involves legal drugs which can be even more challenging to quit. Because Xanax is legal, it gives many the false sense that they are safe.

More from The Stir: Whitney Houston's Cause of Death May Offer Some Comfort

Xanax, Lorazepam, and Valium all slow down the nervous system, and when abused and/or combined with alcohol, another depressant, their effects are much more drastic. Making matters worse: Chronic cocaine use can damage the heart muscles, coronary arteries, and blood vessels. It seems like Whitney's body simply couldn't take the stress these prescription drugs were exacting on her cardiovascular system.

Unfortunately, Whitney's story isn't exactly a rare one, as Michael Jackson and Heath Ledger's demises were both linked to abuse of Xanax. But celebrities aren't the only people to lean moderately or heavily on anti-anxiety meds. Sure, there's a time and a place for use of these substances, but to believe a drug is harmless just because it's a pharmaceutical is a horrible mistake. In fact, a nationwide government study from 2006 found that 28 percent of all drug-related visits to hospital ERs involved the improper use of pharmaceuticals and between 2004-2006, visits involving benzodiazepines increased 36 percent!

As much as the public would like to pass Whitney's death off as the demise of another Hollywood drug addict, the facts should serve as a wake-up call for anyone who has ever taken a prescription drug and figured, "No big deal!" Obviously, common prescription drugs, especially under certain circumstances, aren't necessarily as safe as they seem.

How do you feel about prescription anti-anxiety med use? Are you surprised they may have been the culprit behind Whitney's death?

Image via annaGregg/Splash News

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