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Response to the Toxicology Report of Whitney Houston

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It’s Time to Rewrite the Story

Response to the Toxicology Report of Whitney Houston

Statement from Steve Pasierb

It has become an all-too-familiar script.

The breaking news. The audible national gasp. The mournful pause. Assumptions and social chatter begin. Tributes and magazine covers are inescapable. And then, just as abruptly as the news came, attention wanes. The noise began again today, with the toxicology report confirming that Whitney Houston died as a result of accidental drowning, with cocaine use determined to be a contributing factor. Another cautionary tale of avoidable death.

But for every Whitney Houston, every Michael Jackson or every Heath Ledger who make headlines and produce days of images of teary fans, there are thousands dying from drug abuse each year with no recognition other than the devastated loved ones left to pick up the pieces of broken families.

Drug and alcohol addiction, which has killed and damaged tens of thousands of Americans in every walk of life, typically begins in adolescence. Ninety percent of addictions begin in the teenage years, and 11 million American teens and young adults between the ages of 12 and 29 currently need treatment for substance abuse. Death from prescription painkillers alone has tripled in the past decade, and drug overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental death in about a third of the states, outpacing fatalities from car accidents.

Some of my colleagues were recently in York, Pennsylvania, a city whose emergency rooms are like many around our country today, with doctors and nurses saving young people from overdoses to prescription drugs. Their experience isn’t reflected in statistics, but it points to the extraordinary human and financial toll that medicine abuse is taking on society.

We don’t hear stores of these EMTs and emergency room nurses. The camera crews aren’t there.  The window of interest opens only when someone like Ms. Houston dies. And with each death, the public is a little less shocked; a little more desensitized to losing those in the spotlight due to substance abuse. Among the first thing people tweeted or said after expressing sadness? “I’m not surprised.”

Many have resigned themselves to believe that this is inevitable. Yes, we see a person on a trajectory that will lead to disaster, yet we do nothing but tisk and roll our eyes collectively until it’s time to tweet or post on Facebook. The life we change may not be the child of Cissy Houston, but it can be your daughter’s, your student’s or your neighbor’s.

Parents and caring adults can do something. We can begin by educating ourselves about the dangers of substance abuse and how to prevent it. the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids has extensive information on the abuse of all types of drugs on our website, drugfree.org. Take what you learn and talk with your kids. Our research shows that children who learn a lot about the risks of drugs from their parents are up to 50 percent less likely to use than kids who do not get that critical message at home.

And as a society, let’s not dismiss the fact that people do get well. Pop culture often paints a myth that recovery is not attainable, but people do rebound from substance abuse and recovery is possible. Finally, in all that we say and do, we should not lessen Whitney’s very real struggle and her efforts toward recovery.

Her story is one worth telling and sharing, but we need not cast it again with another daughter who is taken from us too soon. It’s within our power to save our children from the devastation of addiction. We can and must rewrite the script.

-Steve Pasierb
President and CEO
the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids

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