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In Depth: Fighting the scourge of addiction

By Mark Whitaker, CNN
updated 10:04 AM EST, Tue February 21, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • In an in depth series of reports this week, CNN looks at addiction
  • Whitney Houston's troubled life and death has led to the stories
  • CNN anchors, experts, will examine what can be done to fight addiction

Editor's note: Mark Whitaker is executive vice president and managing editor of CNN Worldwide. He is responsible for leading editorial coverage across CNN's multiple platforms and directing the overall approach, tone and scope of CNN's reporting.

(CNN) -- To watch Whitney Houston's powerful "home going" service on Saturday was to be reminded that she was a one-of-a-kind talent, with a divine instrument that even in death soared above all the other famous voices that gathered at the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, New Jersey, to celebrate her. But sadly, Houston was a dime a dozen in another aspect of her life: her dependence on drugs and alcohol.

As anyone who has struggled with it or had a loved one who did can tell you, addiction does not discriminate based on talent or fame or wealth or race. It's an equal-opportunity curse and killer. I know, because I saw my father, another groundbreaking black talent of his time, brought low by it, a tragic story of brilliance and decline and the pain it can inflict on children and family that took me decades to find the strength to tell.

Mark Whitaker
Mark Whitaker

Read more about addiction

In the media, celebrity and addiction is all too often served up only as a tabloid cocktail of scandal and gossip. But in the wake of Houston's death, we at CNN have decided to pay one last tribute to her by devoting this week to a series of In Depth stories and discussions about what can be done to fight the scourge of addiction.

We start with Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta. In appearances on "Starting Point" with Soledad O'Brien and our daytime "CNN Newsroom" shows, he will examine the latest breakthroughs in the brain science and biology of addiction and how they have given rise to promising new anti-substance abuse drugs.

Throughout the week, Dr. Drew Pinsky will share his wisdom about the keys to beating addiction and the lessons of Whitney Houston's fall on his own prime-time show on our sister network, HLN.

Celebrities and prescription drug addiction

How addiction changes your brain
HLN anchor describes cycle of addiction

We will hear from former addicts about how they turned their lives around, including TV sports anchor Pat O'Brien, who is sitting down with Piers Morgan, and ex-NBA great Chris Herren, who is talking to Brooke Baldwin.

We will also air a series of stories about the fastest growing form of addiction in America: prescription drugs, from "gateway pills" like Adderall to heavy duty painkillers like Vicodin and Oxycontin. As Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr reports, the U.S. military this month announced it would start testing troops for hydrocodone (the base of Vicodin) and benzodiazepine, the key ingredient in Valium. When the military, usually the institutional gold standard in dealing with medical and psychological issues, goes that far, you know we have an epidemic on our hands.

Abuse of legal drugs is also an increasing source of accidental deaths, a subject that our medical team plans to follow up on in the coming months. None of us needs to wait for Whitney Houston's toxicology reports to know that more needs to be done to combat the evils that took her from us so soon, or that we all have a responsibility to join the fight.

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