- (Photo: REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)
Weeks of speculation surrounding Whitney Houston's death at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Feb. 11 have come to an end after a coroner announced that the 48-year-old singer was under the influence of drugs when she drowned in a bathtub.
The results announced by Los Angeles County Coroner's Chief Craig Harvey from the preliminary toxicology report will not come as a big surprise to many, as a host of rumors and reports surrounding Houston's last days pointed to her being under the influence of alcohol. A number of prescription drugs were also found in her hotel room. The chronic cocaine problems, however, make her substance abuse problems even more serious than previously thought.
"We had approximately a 60 percent occlusion in the arteries, in the narrowing of the arteries," Harvey explained to ABC News. "So, that condition, complicated by the chronic cocaine use, all combined to result in her drowning. The final cause of death has been established as drowning due to atherosclerotic heart disease and cocaine use."
While the report was unable to determine just how long the singer's cocaine abuse problem went on for, Houston admitted in a previous interview for ABC News that she does indeed suffer from several heavy addictions.
"It has been [alcohol, marijuana, pills, cocaine] at times," Houston told Diane Sawyer in a 2002 interview. "Nobody makes me do anything I don't want to do. It's my decision; the biggest devil is me. I'm my best friend and my worst enemy."
"The immediate effect of cocaine is that it interferes with the electrical system of the heart," explained Dr. Michael Fishbein of the UCLA Medical Center. "An analogy might be a swimming pool pump. You can have a perfectly good pump, but if you cut the electrical cord, the pump stops working. If the heart stops pumping blood, and all the organs are deprived of oxygen. The tissue dies and the person dies."
He also elaborated on what habitual use of the drug could have caused.
"The long-term effect is that cocaine causes the heart to be enlarged, which increases the risk of sudden death," Dr. Fishbein said. "It also causes scarring in the heart, which increases the risk of a sudden cardiac death, and it causes accelerated atherosclerosis, or a hardening of the arteries, which we associate with high blood pressure and smoking."
The one thing that remains to be determined is whether the singer was dead before she submerged in the bathtub, or if she was still alive but then drowned underwater. The coroner's report lists drowning as the first cause of death, which suggests it might have been the latter.
"People can have what is called agonal respirations. That is, you can have a gasping breath, even after the heart is stopped. There are two possibilities: that she was incapacitated and alive when she went under the water, or she was basically dead, and the water got in with these respirations," Dr. Fishbein commented.
"How does someone die in a bathtub?" he asked. "It's not like they're swimming the English Channel. So she had to have been incapacitated. And I think that was due to the cocaine causing an abnormal cardiac rhythm," he added.
Whitney Houston's funeral took place Feb 18. at New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, N.J.