I seem to see the same question repeated over and over, followed by various answers and speculations. Who is to blame for Whitney Houston’s death?
Of course, I realize that the official cause of death is still unknown, but let’s face it…if we are waiting on toxicology reports, then there is a strong possibility that drugs or alcohol was a factor. Let’s look at another recent death of a musician, who also a woman that struggled with substance abuse for many years in her life. They did not have to wait for a toxicology report with Etta James. Leukemia. I admit, she was older, and she had been sick, but still we did not have to send off toxicology reports for her cause of death. Another example, Bernie Mac. Bernie Mac died an untimely death, as a result of a complication from pneumonia. Still, we had his cause of death almost instantly. The fact that we wait on this toxicology report, we all realize her addiction most likely played some role. It certainly played a huge role in her life.
One finger points the blame at the curse of fame. The famous have a huge disposable income, and I think this does play a huge role in their addictions. It also plays a role in the excesses of their addictions. Let’s face it; we all would have bought much more drugs at one time or another if money were not a factor. The famous have a different level of accountability because they do not have to be a designated driver, or cop their own drugs, or even take care of their own children in some cases. In the circles of the famous, substance use is accepted and addiction is much more tolerated. I think also fame contributes to a lack of good support in recovery. An entourage on the payroll often surrounds celebrities, and their vested interest is often not with the celebrity’s recovery, but with their ability to maintain a paycheck.
Another finger points the blame at The War on Drugs. Tony Bennett sparked this argument when he said, “First it was Michael Jackson, then it was Amy Winehouse and now the magnificent Whitney Houston. I’d like to have every gentleman and lady in this room to commit themselves to get our government to legalize drugs. So they get it from a doctor, not some gangsters that sell it under the table.” I would like to point out that Michael Jackson did, in fact, get his drugs from a doctor. But, Bennett has a point.
The prohibition of drugs plays a role in stigmatizing those who are battling with addiction. Drugs are illegal, and therefore users cross into the criminal realm. Addiction is often viewed with shamefulness, or suspicion. As an addict, we have entered this underbelly that is not accepted by society. And it often seems that we cannot get away from these opinions once they are formed. No matter how much clean time one has under their belt, there are still often the whispers of addiction surrounding them. Recovery is about hope, not demonization, and as long as this stigma remains demonization will continue.
Punitive drug laws create roadblocks to recovery. Our prisons are overcrowded with non-violent offenders. Many of them are substance abusers, and many of their crimes are drug-related. Yet, we do not have adequate treatment options. These non-violent drug offenders often serve their time without being treated for their addictions, and they relapse and get back into the prison system. Some data claims that 66% of all non-violent drug offenders will return to prison in 3 years, while only 17% of those put in “drug court” will re-offend. Jail is not an answer to help addiction.
When I went to jail for drug and alcohol related crimes, I tried to get into some kind of treatment. I realized after several days of sitting behind bars, with no way to get out, that I needed treatment. I was told it would take months to get me in to even see a drug treatment counselor. NA meetings were only once every two weeks, and you had to be signed up three weeks in advance. To get into any kind of program in this jail, you had to have been there for at least two months. It seemed to me that when I started to reach out, looking for the tools I needed to get my life together, the Commonwealth of Virginia told me I would just have to wait.
Also, the penalties for drug crimes are tough. At various times in our country’s history we have toughened up on drug laws. The sentence for possessing and distributing LSD is high, established in the 60s from a fearful government in the wake of protest and upheaval. The sentence for crack cocaine is also very high, as the government tried to eradicate drug dealers from our streets. (We all know that will never happen.) In 1993, one woman was sentenced to life in prison for possession of 5 grams of crack. It was her first offence, and she was a non-violent offender. Mandatory minimums in place for drug crimes have stripped discretion from judges, and the offender is slapped with the system no matter what his story or circumstance. Addiction goes largely untreated, while sentences just get handed down.
Another finger points the blame at Bobby Brown. Whitney Houston had the image of a good girl when she first met Bobby Brown. Some argue that Whitney Houston would have never been introduced to crack if it had not been for the influence of Bobby Brown. To counter that argument, she would have been very likely been introduced to powdered cocaine in the celebrity circles. Some even argue that Whitney fell, almost unsuspecting, into her drug use as she followed her beloved husband down his dark path. “She just did not know what she was getting herself into.” There are many sides to this coin, but I think everyone is accountable for their own actions and choices.
I personally believe that although each of these factors may have played a role in her death, Whitney herself is most accountable for her death. As an addict in recovery, I understand the importance of accountability. We all do. We all realize that becoming accountable for our own action s has allowed us to heal, and I do not think that true healing is possible without accepting your own role in the situation. In recovery, we must stop playing the blame game, and we must begin accepting responsibility for our own actions. It is the only way to survive.