Whitney Houston died by drowning in the bathtub of her Beverly Hilton Hotel suite, according to the LA coroner, but it was also determined that a non-lethal level of cocaine was found in her body, and that long-term cocaine abuse contributed to her death.
So far left unanswered is whether any illegal drugs were found at the scene, whether anybody from Whitney Houston’s entourage is suspected of cleaning up the area before paramedics arrived, and how she obtained the drugs.
“It’s still an open investigation for us,” Beverly Hills Police Lt. Mark Rosen told People magazine when asked if cocaine was found in the hotel room.
“I can’t disclose any details about the investigation.”
Coroner Assistant Chief Ed Winter previously confirmed that prescription bottles were found at the scene but that the medications were “not in an alarming amount.” The coroner has not commented on whether illegal drugs were also found.
Whitney Houston’s death is still an open investigation for police
Whitney Houston, 48, was found unresponsive and underwater in the tub on February 11, a day before the Grammy Awards, and was pronounced dead at the scene soon afterward.
The star had a long and well-publicized battle with substance abuse and went into rehab several times, including a stint in May 2011 in an outpatient program for what her reps said was drug and alcohol treatment.
The coroner’s office on Thursday released only a brief synopsis of its findings. A full autopsy report, which typically includes details of what investigators find at the death scene and witness interviews, is expected in about two weeks.
What the coroner is announcing is that based on a February 12 autopsy and toxicology tests: “The final cause of death has been determined to be drowning (and) effects of atherosclerotic heart disease and cocaine use.”
Cocaine, according to the report, was “contributory to death.” Also found in her system were marijuana, Xanax, the muscle relaxant Flexeril and Benadryl, “but did not contribute to the death.”
The bottom line, according to the report: “No trauma or foul play is suspected.”
Whitney Houston drowned in the hotel room bathtub on February 11, having ingested cocaine recently enough to have it be a contributing factor in her death, said Los Angeles coroner yesterday.
But how exactly did Whitney Houston, who was only 48, die in her bathtub at the Beverly Hilton?
Did she overdose? Hit her head? Simply fall asleep? Did years of cocaine use cause the heart disease that was also detected during autopsy?
Los Angeles County Assistant Chief Coroner Ed Winter, who determined cause of death to be accidental drowning combined with cocaine use and atherosclerotic heart disease, told E! News that his team actually has not been able to pinpoint exactly how Whitney Houston died as far as sequence of events – but there are some likely possibilities.
“It means she could have passed out and drowned,” Ed Winter said.
“Also, continued use of drugs resulted in heart disease, and that could have led to a heart attack.
“At this time, I don’t know how bad her heart was. That will be in the final report. We know she drowned, she had heart disease, and the cocaine was considered a contributing cause to her death.”
They will be reexamining Whitney Houston’s heart for other indicators of deterioration in the coming days.
As for the traces of pills found in Whitney Houston’s body, chief coroner investigator Craig Harvey told reporters during a press conference that it was “clear Houston was taking Xanax, but the levels were such they were a therapeutic level…normal for someone following the rules of a prescribed medication.”
“The Benadryl may have created a combined effect, but the toxicology said all levels were therapeutic or sub-therapeutic and not contributory to her death,” Craig Harvey said.
Whitney Houston drowned in the hotel room bathtub on February 11, having ingested cocaine recently
They found a “moderate” amount of cocaine – an “acute dose, not too much before she collapsed,” he said, but noted that there was evidence of “chronic usage.”
“Drug use creates problems,” Craig Harvey explained.
“If you have one condition and you’re using cocaine, you’ll exacerbate it. It causes the heart to beat faster, the arteries to constrict, which can create a problem and set you up for a cardiac event.”
“It exacerbates heat disease,” he said.
“Probably in the long run, [all of the substances] didn’t help.”
The coroner’s office said earlier today that the final report should be available for release within two weeks.
Meanwhile, at least one medical expert doesn’t buy the notion that the marijuana, Xanax and other sedatives found in her system were not considered contributing factors in Whitney Houston’s death.
“I don’t know how you can say that a bunch of sedating drugs, even in small amounts, couldn’t contribute to somebody either passing out or becoming sedated to the point where you wouldn’t necessarily struggle to recover the way most people would,” Dr. David Baron, chief of staff at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center and Ortopaedic Hospital, told E! News.
“If we were falling asleep and slipped under the water, our emergency systems in our brain would wake us up,” Dr. David Baron said.
“When people are sedated, the brain doesn’t have the normal alarm systems working properly to make you struggle and fight for life. So I really don’t get why [the coroner’s office] said they were not contributing causes; I don’t know how they can know that unless they were in such minute amounts.”
Which is a possibility – the official report hasn’t been released yet.
As for the cocaine, Dr. David Baron said, if she ingested a “large amount…she could have easily had a cardiac event like a heart attack and an irregular heartbeat. There is no way after someone dies to know if they had an arrhythmia, they are always the mystery of sudden death where you weren’t there to witness it.”
“We are probably never going to know the exact sequence of events that took place,” Dr. David Baron concluded.
“But the question about whether the drug use caused her to drown or not I think is unquestionable. It either compromised her heart, made it weak, caused an arrhythmia and resulted in blood vessels constricting.”