White House drug czar: Whitney Houston’s death is a “teachable moment”

posted at 12:45 pm on February 14, 2012 by Tina Korbe

It’s a favorite phrase of this administration — “teachable moment” — and drug czar Gil Kerlikowske couldn’t resist applying it to the recent death of the legendary Whitney Houston. The Hill reports:

Kerlikowske, the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, said Houston’s passing puts a spotlight on the issue of prescription drug use. The superstar had opened up about in past interviews admitting to problems with substance abuse, however the Los Angeles County coroner however has still not ruled on the cause of her death. …

The nation’s top drug-policy enforcer told CBS that this type of drug use affects a “huge number” of people throughout the country and causes deaths in “very, very high numbers.”

“They’re coming right out of our medicine cabinets and yet these drugs are as addictive and dangerous as any other drug,” he added.

Kerlikowske said that Houston’s struggles with substance abuse highlight the fact that the issue spans all demographics and socioeconomic barriers. …

“We can use this a moment to help people understand and remember that there are literally billions of Americans suffering from this problem,” he said.

I get what Kerlikowske meant by his remarks, but, for some reason, the application of that phrase in this instance just felt off. Whitney Houston’s death does seem doubly tragic and unnecessarily premature because drugs probably played a part, but, mostly, in the immediate wake of her death, mourners want to remember her immense talent, not her personal demons. That doesn’t mean fans should remain in denial about her drug difficulties — just that they should be allowed to lament her loss without a lecture from the administration.

As long as Kerlikowske is going to talk about substance abuse, though, I’d prefer he didn’t imply (or come right out and say) drug addiction is a disease. Addicts might need help, but it’s not as though they “contracted” an addiction through no fault of their own. Is caffeine addiction a disease in need of a cure? Kerlikowske’s framing of the issue ensures a role for the government in solving it, whereas a framing of the issue that suggests addicts can be empowered to take personal responsibility minimizes the need for government involvement.

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