Prince had an “exceedingly high” level of fentanyl in his system when he passed away on April 21, 2016, according to a confidential toxicology report obtained yesterday by the Associated Press. The report surveys several medical experts not connected to Prince and the investigation of his death. They come to a unanimous consensus that it was fentanyl, the prescription synthetic opioid 50 times more powerful than heroin, that killed him.
“The amount in his blood is exceedingly high, even for somebody who is a chronic pain patient on fentanyl patches,” said Dr. Lewis Nelson, Rutgers New Jersey Medical School chairman of emergency medicine. In the report, Dr. Nelson referred to the fentanyl concentrations “a pretty clear smoking gun.”
As AP notes:
The report says the concentration of fentanyl in Prince’s blood was 67.8 micrograms per liter. The report explains that fatalities have been documented in people with blood levels ranging from three to 58 micrograms per liter.
The report also says the level of fentanyl in Prince’s liver was 450 micrograms per kilogram, and notes that liver concentrations greater than 69 micrograms per kilogram “seem to represent overdose or fatal toxicity cases.”
Assuming the accuracy of the numbers provided by the Associated Press regarding usual fatal toxicity cases, the amount in his blood was a significant percentage higher than any person can handle without dire side effects. Prince’s liver was attempting to process enough fentanyl to kill someone more than six times over.
According to one of the experts surveyed, Dr. Charles McKay, the president of the American College of Medical Toxicology, Prince’s results suggest that he took the drug orally (rather than in the more commonly-used slow-release patch form). He also notes and that the toxicity levels in both his liver and blood suggest the lethal dose had time to circulate in his system before he died. Long-term opioid users build up a tolerance to the drug over time, sometimes allowing them to sustain normally-toxic levels for longer periods of time.
When authorities searched Prince’s Paisley Park estate following his death, they turned up several bottles of assorted pills, many of which tested positive as fentanyl and various other opioids. As the AP notes, information that has been released publicly indicates the source of those drugs hasn’t been determined.
What is known is that Prince suffered from chronic pain, for which he sought medical treatment. On the evening before his death, Prince visited a Twin Cities hospital, according to the sheriff’s office. He was also seen that day at his local Walgreens pharmacy. Employees reportedly told TMZ that he looked “more frail and nervous than usual.”
The Carver County (MN) Sheriff’s department is now in the final stages of an investigation into the circumstances surrounding Prince’s death and how he obtained the drugs that wound up taking his life. Last week, Carver County Attorney Mark Metz said in a statement that he was reviewing law enforcement reports and would make a decision on whether to charge anyone “in the near future.”
If they were prescribed by a doctor, that doctor could be hit with criminal charges. This would not be the first time in recent memory that a doctor was implicated in the death of a pop superstar. In 2009, pop superstar Michael Jackson–to whom Prince has always been compared–died after acute intoxication brought on by prescription sleep aids caused him to go into cardiac arrest. Jackson’s death was eventually ruled to be a homicide, and the doctor who prescribed the meds, Dr. Conrad Murray, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to four years in prison.
Whether or not a specific doctor is to blame for enabling Prince’s access to the drugs that killed him, this case echoes the ominous and deadly presence of fentanyl and other opioids that has been increasingly prevalent in recent years as the U.S. has spiraled into a full-blown addiction epidemic. Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea recently penned an op-ed about his own struggles with opiate addiction and the deadly trend of doctors over-prescribing powerful medications, often due to monetary incentives from pharmaceutical companies industry.
These stories of people from all walks of life dying at the hands of prescription opiates and other meds have broken our hearts again and again. We can only hope that this latest high-profile blow will spark lawmakers to take stronger action in stopping Big Pharma and the medical industry from proliferating excessive amounts of deadly drugs in the name of financial interests.
[H/T The Associated Press]
Prince’s spirit lives on through the countless musicians he influenced. If you’re heading to New Orleans for this year’s Jazz Fest, don’t miss Purple Party: A Tribute To Prince featuring members of The Main Squeeze, Turkuaz, The Motet, Snarky Puppy, Thievery Corporation, Allen Stone & more at the Maison on Sunday, May 6th during Jazz Fest. For more info, click here.
Artists: Ryan Jalbert, Lyle Divinsky, MonoNeon, Corey Frye, Shira Elias, Sammi Garett, Steve Swatkins, Robert “Sput” Searight, Chris Bullock, Mike “Maz” Maher, Megan Letts, Jeff Franca, Casey Russell
Check out Live For Live Music’s full guide to Jazz Fest late nights, here.