LOS ANGELES – Whitney Houston was a chronic cocaine user who had the drug in her system when she drowned in a hotel bathtub, coroner’s officials said Thursday after releasing autopsy findings that also noted heart disease contributed to her death.
The disclosure ended weeks of speculation about what killed the Grammy-winning singer on Feb. 11 on the eve of the Grammy Awards.
Houston was found submerged in the bathtub of her room at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, and her death was ruled accidental. Several bottles of prescription medications were found in her hotel room, but coroner’s officials said there weren’t excessive quantities.
“We are saddened to learn of the toxicology results, although we are glad to now have closure,” Patricia Houston, the singer’s sister-in-law and manager, wrote in a statement to the Associated Press.
Beverly Hills police said in a statement there was no evidence of wrongdoing in connection with Houston’s death.
Coroner’s Chief of Operations Craig Harvey said cocaine and its byproducts were found in Houston’s system, and the drug was listed as a contributing factor in her death. He said the results indicated Houston was a chronic cocaine user.
Toxicology results also showed Houston had marijuana, Xanax, the muscle relaxant Flexeril, and the allergy medication Benadryl in her system. Houston died just hours before she was scheduled to appear at producer Clive Davis’ pre-Grammy Awards bash.
The singer also had buildup of plaque in her arteries that can restrict blood flow. Assistant Chief Coroner Ed Winter said the condition is common in drug users, although he said it wasn’t clear whether Houston had a heart attack on the day she died.
The exact amount of cocaine in Houston’s system was not disclosed Thursday but will be contained in a full autopsy report to be released in about two weeks, officials said.
Cocaine use has been known to cause damage to the heart and could have caused Houston’s death, said Dr. Michael Fishbein, professor of pathology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. He had no role in the investigation.
He said a likely scenario was that Houston’s cocaine use interfered with the normal function of her heart.
“There’s no reason to drown in a bathtub unless you’re incapacitated,” Fishbein said.
Family and friends said after Houston’s death that they didn’t believe she was still abusing drugs.