Superstars die of overdoses from illicit drugs. Heroin. Cocaine. There’s nothing new about that.
But Prince’s death – a tragic and unexpected loss for pop culture and music – could turn out to be part of a new twist on that tragic story.
It appears Prince was yet another casualty of the new American scourge – misuse of prescription painkillers. Since the 57-year-old artist was found slumped in an elevator at his Paisley Park estate last week, reports have circulated that he had a longstanding addition to the opioid Percocet.
Now, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, authorities are investigating the role of opioids in his death, in part because the prescription painkillers were found at the scene.
Even more troubling are reports that, just days before his death April 21, Prince’s private jet made an emergency landing and paramedics had to give him a shot of the opioid overdose antidote Narcan.
Dr. Andrew Kolodny, executive director of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing, told The Wrap website opioid abuse is “the worst drug addiction epidemic in United States history.” He called the pills Prince was taking “heroin pills.”
If all of this true – and we’ll have to wait at least several weeks for the toxicology report is released to find out for sure – it will only fuel the already fiery conversation about opioid abuse in this nation. From the hollows of Appalachia to the streets of Sacramento and the Midwestern cornfields, opioid abuse has been on the rise. Fatal overdoses of the prescription painkillers have quadrupled since the turn of the century.
There is no good in Prince’s sad death, but if opioids are to blame hopefully that knowledge will help more people understand the dangers these drugs present.
Millions of Americans are hooked on these and other opioids – a class of drugs that includes brand-name versions of oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine and fentanyl, as well as the illicit drug heroin.
Everyone knows heroin is dangerous. But what about Percocet? Or Norco? Or Vicodin? Because doctors prescribe them, the general public too often misunderstands and overlooks their dangers.
Most people start off innocently ingesting the painkillers under the direction of doctors, often after surgery or an accident. This can lead to addiction, though. It is more common than most people imagine to go from a seemingly harmless prescription for Percocet to full-on, uncontrollable addiction, and from there to a fatal overdose. Tens of thousands of Americans die from overdoses every year. More than in car crashes.
There is no good in Prince’s sad death, but if opioids are to blame hopefully that knowledge will help more people understand the dangers these drugs present; help them understand that if such an addiction can kill a rock icon it can also kill them. It could serve as the biggest wake-up call yet that opioid addiction is a public health crisis that must be addressed with more urgency.
If that happens, it would do more than commemorative showings of “Purple Rain” at movie theaters across the country to honor his memory.