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Whitney Houston death 'teachable moment,' U.S. drug czar says

February 14, 2012 | 11:41 am

White House drug czar Gil Kerlikowske said the death Saturday of Whitney Houston is a "teachable moment" for the country.

"Her death is absolutely tragic and this brings attention to the problem that she had talked about in the past and that certainly is prescription drugs," he told CBS News in an interview. "It affects a huge number of people in this country and has driven deaths to very, very high numbers -- well over 15,000."

"I think it's what we might call a teachable moment, when someone passes," added Kerlikowske, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. "Particularly someone that was as highly thought of and was such an incredible performer as Whitney Houston."

PHOTOS: Whitney Houston | 1963-2012

Houston struggled with drug and alcohol problems for years, but investigators stressed they don't know if drugs had anything to do with her death.

Authorities have collected several bottles of drugs from Houston's suite at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, law enforcement sources told The Times. But the sources 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.

"No matter what medication they may be taking, until we do a toxicology test and see the levels, we are not going to speculate," said Ed Winter, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County coroner's office.

FULL COVERAGE: Whitney Houston | 1963-2012

Investigators are expected to speak to Houston's medical team to try to  learn of any underlying medical conditions she might have had. In previous high-profile death investigations, officials have interviewed those who prescribed drugs for the deceased. When Michael Jackson died, authorities spent weeks sorting out his large cache of prescription drugs.

That probe ended with criminal charges being filed against Jackson's physician, Conrad Murray. But Beverly Hills police said Monday that they don't consider the Houston case to be a homicide and have no plans to launch a criminal investigation.

The singer was in Beverly Hills for music industry titan Clive Davis’ annual pre-Grammys party Saturday night at the Beverly Hilton. During the preceding days, she was seen acting strangely, skipping around a ballroom and doing handstands near the hotel pool. She reportedly greeted people with a warm smile but at times appeared disheveled, in mismatched clothes and with her hair dripping wet.

On Thursday, she dropped by the rehearsals for the pre-Grammys party. A Grammy staffer said that as reporters interviewed Davis and singers Brandy and Monica, Houston was dancing just off camera to make them laugh.


Whitney Houston: Full coverage

Whitney Houston was found underwater in bathtub, police say

Whitney Houston death: No plans for criminal probe, police say

-- Andrew Blankstein and Richard Winton