The grim suspicions of many have now been officially confirmed. The legend Prince died of an accidental overdose of prescription opioids. His death comes at a time when an opioid addiction epidemic has been sweeping the United States and many other parts of the world.
In the U.S. alone, studies have shown that over 28,000 people died from opioids in 2014 alone, and close to 4.3 million people were taking pain medication for nonmedical or recreational purposes that same year. If something positive may be gleaned from his passing, the pervading issue of opioid addiction has been brought into the spotlight and we are now given the opportunity to discuss the indiscriminate danger of opioids and how to prevent, detect, and treat opioid addiction in an attempt to prevent future tragedies. Read on to find out more about opioid addiction and Prince’s regretful unraveling in the grip of opioids.
What are opioids?
Opioids are a family of narcotic pain medications that include opiates – drugs that are naturally derived from the poppy plant – as well as synthetic modifications of opiates. They may be transformed or manufactured into powders, which are ingested in this form, heated to a liquid and injected, or compacted into pills. Some of these drugs are illegal, like heroin, while others are produced for legal medical use, such as prescription-strength pain relief medications.
Different types and concentrations of opioids are prescribed for different degrees of pain. For example, codeine is commonly prescribed for mild pain whereas the well-known drugs like Vicodin and oxycodone are prescribed for intense or chronic pain. Opioids have been determined to be highly addictive in that in addition to relieving pain, they induce pleasant, euphoric feelings in patients. Without proper medical supervision, many patients are at risk of becoming addicted to opioids, especially if the drug is administered over a long period of time.
Bodily Effects of Opioid Use
Opioids work by attaching to opioid receptors in the brain and other parts of the body to reduce the pain messages being sent. They can produce a sense of well-being or euphoria in elevated levels. When opioids (prescription or other) are used long-term, the production of naturally occurring opioids is inhibited, which tends to cause painful withdrawal symptoms in users, further deterring the person from subsiding use.
Once the pleasurable effects of opioids are felt in their initially prescribed dosage, it is very common for individuals to seek to intensify their experience by taking the drug in ways other than those prescribed. People may start by increasing dosage and then graduate to trying alternative ingestion methods, or combining the drug with other drugs or alcohol. These alternative usage methods may lead to quicker onset and heightened intensity of effects, but also come with a slew of additional risks including overdose and death.
Another property of opioid drugs is their tendency to induce drug tolerance in long-term users. Developing tolerance for opioids require the user to progressively and continually increase their dose to achieve the same effect. Sometimes this is done by a doctor (in the case of patients dealing with chronic illness or pain), but often individuals do it themselves. Opioid tolerance is costly both from an economic and health perspective and greatly increases the possibility of overdose.
Opioid Addiction on the Rise
According to the Center for Disease Control, opioid abuse and overdose has been on the rise over the past 15 years. More people died from drug overdoses in 2014 than in any other year on record and the majority of drug overdose deaths involved an opioid.
Interestingly, statistics show that since 1999 the amount of prescription opioids sold in the U.S. nearly quadrupled yet there has not been an overall change in the amount of pain that Americans report. This would imply that doctors and pharmaceutical companies might partially bear responsibility for contributing to the dramatic increase in opioid addiction.
Prince: What We Know
OK, so now that we have a basic understanding of what opioids are and why they are so dangerous, can we finally get to the gossip about Prince? Sorry, but no.
As a neutral authority on international drug rehabs, it is not our position to speculate on addiction, particularly when Prince never went public with his struggle. The fact remains that Prince’s death has spawned crucial conversations on the topic of opioid addiction – particularly on the increasingly expansive and indiscriminate impact. If anything positive can result from his death, this opportunity to shed light on opioid addiction is just it.
Throughout his career, Prince flirted with taboos, but contrary to his flamboyant appearance and dramatic performance antics, when it came to his private life, Prince remained quite reserved. The press has largely respected Prince’s desire to remain private throughout his career, but the following facts surrounding his death and potential tie to opioid use have been publically presented and generally accepted:
- Prince cancelled a concert on April 7th, citing the flu as his reason.
- Michael Todd Schulenberg reported seeing Prince on April 7th and April 20th and prescribing unnamed medication.
- On April 15th, on his way home after performing two shows in Atlanta, Prince’s plane made an emergency landing in Moline, Illinois. Prince’s bodyguard carried him to paramedics at the airport and he was given a shot of the opioid antidote Narcan. Prince was unresponsive and taken to a hospital. He later left against medical advice.
- The day following his death, Prince supposedly had an appointment with Howard Kornfeld, a known opioid addiction specialist, claims an attorney with knowledge of the investigation.
- Prince representatives called Dr. Kornfeld the night of April 20th and due to the fact that he was out of town at the time, he sent his son, Andrew Kornfeld, to the home of Prince to provide immediate aid. Kornfeld Jr. was on the scene at the time of Prince’s death and was in possession of buprenorphine, a drug commonly used to treat opioid addiction, although he was not legally allowed to administer them and did not in fact administer them to Prince that night.
- Law enforcement sources reported that prescription opioid medication was found on Prince’s body and in his home at the time of his death.
- On June 2, 2016 official autopsy results were released to the public indicating that Prince in fact died of a opiod overdose from the prescription painkiller fentanyl. The law in Minnesota (Prince’s hometown and where the autopsy was performed) protects against the public release of full autopsy results for a period of thirty years, so it is not officially determinable if Prince was suffering from long-term opoid addiction or if he had a underlying medical condition that required the use of these painkillers.
- The facts presented in the above timeline might lead one to logically conclude that Prince was in fact struggling with opioid addiction and was about the undergo treatment for this addiction before he abruptly passed away. No direct statements have been made by Prince himself or by any reliable sources validating an opioid addiction.
Opioid Addiction Treatment
Regarding treatment for opioid addiction, acknowledgement of the addiction must always be the first step. This might seem obvious, but in the case of opioid addiction- especially prescription pain medication addiction – people are often unable of unwilling to identify themselves as being addicted. It is often not until someone else intervenes or a doctor removes him or her from the medication that they realize the true impact that the drug is having on them.
After an opioid addiction has been recognized, treatment can commence. Opioid addiction treatment usually starts with detox, and should be followed by a comprehensive treatment plan. As alluded to in Prince’s case, a long-term, holistic approach with a proper balance of individual attention and group support are ideal to effectively recover from an opioid addiction and prevent future relapse. Due to the widespread accessibility of opioids and the ability of opioid users to ‘blend in’ socially, relapse rates are high and intensive education, counseling, and aftercare support is needed to guard against this.
Opioid addiction– like most other addictions- does not discriminate based on age, sex, location, economic status, or any other identifying factors. To learn more, please check out this video for more information on the risks of opiods and other prescription drugs.