While the official cause of Whitney Houston's tragic death won't be determined for weeks, her battle with drug and alcohol addiction was publicly known.
Her talent and soaring voice touched millions. When she sang the National Anthem, it reached the Top 20 on the US Hot 100, the highest ever. And she donated all the proceeds to the American Red Cross Gulf Crisis Fund in 1991. In 2001, after the events of 9/11, her rendering of The Star Spangled Banner was re-released, reaching the Top 6 this time. Again, she donated the proceeds to the firefighters and first responders. But her talent didn't save her life. Some might argue, just the opposite.
Wikipedia's list of entertainers, politicians and athletes that have died from substance abuse is devastatingly long. Name after name, it goes back as far as the 1800's. Starting at the top of the alphabetical list, there are over a hundred before one even gets to the "E's". Recent names include Michael Jackson, John Belushi, Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Ken Caminiti, River Phoenix, Anna Nicole Smith and Jim Morrison.
And that's just the list of "famous" names. According to the Center for Disease Control, almost 40,000 people died in the USA from alcohol-related causes in 2009 alone. Add in the drug-induced deaths, and far more people die from substance abuse than in vehicular accidents every year.
We are losing our shining stars, our mentors, our heroes, our loved ones. And it doesn't have to happen.
What to do?
More laws probably won't help much, although the ones already in place should be enforced. Getting drunk drivers off the road is a noble and necessary cause. The hassle encountered when purchasing certain types of over-the-counter drugs is worth it if it helps reduce meth production and usage. Getting spice and the like out of convenience stores is a good thing. But there needs to be more than that.
Tony Bennett's idea of legalizing drugs, suggested right after Houston's announced death, wouldn't solve anything. It would just make death through substance abuse faster and easier to find.
It's time the entertainment industry steps up to the plate, with a campaign that says substance abuse isn't cool. It's time entertainers take a serious stand and sanction their own. Stop signing them for movies, albums, teams. Do drug testing before hiring them, and put in serious consequences. Create PSAs from celebrities that 'deglamorize' this sort of abuse.
The public should also hold our superstars accountable. Don't go to movies that molly-coddle known drug and alcohol abusers. Rally behind teams that have a no tolerance policy. Be supportive of those that are navigating the perilous waters of fame and fortune with integrity and wise choices. Talk to children about the tragic consequences of substance abuse.
Prescott isn't immune from such problems. It was just a couple of years ago that a well-known local athlete died after a "skittle party" before his 21st birthday. MATForce, led by Sheila Polk and local leaders, does what it can, but it will take more than that. It will take role models who publicly say, 'No' in their personal lives to drugs and substance abuse, leading by example. It will take moms and dads who are willing to sacrifice momentary pleasure to invest time in their children. It will take grandparents and aunts and uncles and siblings who walk the talk and don't ignore the issues. It will take individuals that accept personal reality and responsibility and get help if needed.
It will take a community-wide effort. And a statewide effort, which needs to be part of a national effort, which needs to be part of a worldwide effort. It will take families and neighbors and fans; and yes, sometimes even legal authorities to change the trend of self-destruction.
We must figure this out. It's time to stop sacrificing our beloved and shining stars on the altar of abuse and tragedy.