The death of singer Whitney Houston should serve to warn Americans about the danger of abusing prescription drugs, the nation's top drug official says.
"I think it's what we might call a teachable moment, when someone passes," White House Drug Czar Gil 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."
Houston was found dead in her Beverly Hills hotel on Sunday along with multiple prescription drugs, though the official cause of death has not been determined.
Kerlikowske, the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, said when he took office three years ago the problem of prescription drug use was not something that was on the public's mind. It did not take long however, for his office to realize how significant the issue was, based on staggering statistics.
Well over 15,000 Americans have died as a result of prescription drug overdoses, he said. As a result, in April 2009, President Barack Obama released a strategy for dealing with prescription drug use, which brings together state and local governments, along with parents to try and tackle the problem.
"They're coming right out of our medicine cabinets, and yet these drugs are as addictive and dangerous as any other drug," Kerlikowske added.
Kerlikowske went on to say say that Houston's past discussions regarding her drug use shows that the issue crosses all social and economic statuses. He described the issue as a disease that can be treated, managed and overcome with the right help.
"We can use this a moment to help people understand and remember that there are literally billions of Americans suffering from this problem," Kerlikowske said.
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