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Whitney Houston death: Subpoenas likely for doctors, pharmacies

February 15, 2012 |  8:10 am

Whitney Houston

Investigators are expected to serve subpoenas on doctors and pharmacies this week as they try to determine whether prescription drugs found in Whitney Houston's hotel room had anything to do with her death, according to a source with knowledge of the case.

“Subpoena power is one of the wonderful tools an investigator uses to get information from pharmacies and doctors,” said 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.”

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 death investigation focusing on prescription drugs launched after the singer died in 2009.

Photos: Whitney Houston, 1963-2012

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.

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.

FULL COVERAGE: Whitney Houston | 1963-2012

The source would not discuss specifics of the case but said it was standard practice to examine whether the drugs were dispensed properly and if there was any indication that she was receiving too many prescriptions. The source spoke on the condition of anonymity because the case is ongoing.

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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Photo: Pedestrians walk past an image of singer Whitney Houston displayed at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., the city where Houston was born. Her funeral will be held in her hometown Saturday. Credit: Mel Evans / Associated Press