The musician Prince died April 21 from an accidental overdose of the opioid fentanyl, according to the Midwest Medical Examiner’s office. The news comes as the federal government and Congress are stepping up efforts to curb the growing prescription drug epidemic in the US.
Fentanyl is prescribed to treat persistent moderate to severe pain, most often in cancer patients, who are already on continuous opioid therapy. The drug is already blamed for a sharp increase in overdose deaths. Fentanyl is 25-25 times more potent than heroin and 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
The medical examiner’s report states that Price, whose full name was Prince Rogers Nelson, died from “self-administered fentanyl.” His death was listed as accidental. Fentanyl is administered intravenously or through skin patches, nasal sprays, lozenges, oral dissolving tablets, and inhalers. It is not specified how Prince took the drug or whether it was prescribed or illegally made.
Prince was known in his early days for living a clean life, but family said he developed an addiction to the opioid Percocet decades ago. He had started taking the drug to deal with pain caused from the rigors of performing.
Six days before he died, Prince’s plane made an emergency landing in Moline, Ill., while heading home after a concert in Atlanta. The singer was unresponsive and was taken to a hospital for a potential overdose of pain medication.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently required manufacturers of immediate-release opioids to add a new black box warning about the risks of misuse, abuse, addiction, overdose and death. The agency is also requiring drug makers to develop abuse-deterrent versions of opioids already on the market. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also issued new guidelines that urge doctors to consider alternatives to opioids when treating adults with chronic pain, all in an effort to curb the growing prescription drug epidemic.