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Whitney Houston death: Doctors told to provide drug records

Whitney Houston

The Los Angeles County coroner's office said Wednesday that investigators have made contact with "a number" of doctors as they try to determine how Whitney Houston died.

Authorities collected several bottles of drugs from Houston's suite at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, where she was found dead Saturday. But officials have said the amounts of drugs did not seem unusually large, leaving it unclear whether the medications had anything to do with the singer's death.

Officials are waiting for the results of toxicology tests on Houston's body.

PHOTOS: Whitney Houston, 1963-2012

The Times reported earlier that the coroner was planning to to serve subpoenas on doctors and pharmacists, seeking details about the drugs they found. Now, officials said they have made contact with some doctors.

"We've already contacted a number of doctors with requests for records," Assistant Chief Coroner Ed Winter told the Associated Press. He stressed seeking the records is common in such cases.

“Subpoena power is one of the wonderful tools an investigator uses to get information from pharmacies and doctors,” added Dave Campbell, a retired captain from the coroner’s office. “You’re primarily seeking documents, not the persons who treated or prescribed, because you are doing a death investigation, not a criminal investigation.”

FULL COVERAGE: Whitney Houston | 1963-2012

Campbell said investigators generally concentrate on the physicians most clearly connected to any prescription drugs recovered or conditions they know about. “Your saw a lot of this in the Michael Jackson case and I’m sure it will be useful in this incidence," Campbell added, referring to the death investigation focusing on prescription drugs launched after the singer died in 2009.

He added that investigators would count the tablets in each container and compare them against the date of the prescription to see if the person was taking the correct dosage.

"Sometimes you find other medications inside" the bottles, he said.

Defense attorney Ellyn Garofalo, who won acquittal for a physician charged with over-prescribing drugs to Anna Nicole Smith, said investigators were probably going to be looking at several specific areas.

They will compare the amounts of prescription medications gathered from Houston's room with the amounts of medication that were dispensed. They will look at which pharmacies dispensed the drugs and which doctor or doctors prescribed them. That information could be compared against the prescribing history of one or more doctors who treated Houston.

A red flag would be a single doctor prescribing enormous amounts of medication, Garofalo said.

After Jackson died in 2009, authorities spent months looking at bags full of prescription drugs found at his home. Prosecutors charged his doctor, Conrad Murray, in connection with the star's death.

Investigators will probably also use a state-created database with more than 100 million entries for controlled substances prescribed in California. The database has been used in past cases to determine the amount of drugs patients were receiving and how much doctors were prescribing.

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L.A. Now is the Los Angeles Times’ breaking news section for Southern California. It is produced by more than 80 reporters and editors in The Times’ Metro section, reporting from the paper’s downtown Los Angeles headquarters as well as bureaus in Costa Mesa, Long Beach, San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Riverside, Ventura and West Los Angeles.
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