Prince Died of Fentanyl Toxicity, Hours Before Scheduled Visit With Addiction Specialist

The 57-year-old music icon officially became the most high-profile victim of the nation's opioid epidemic.

A medical examiner has confirmed what was suspected—the music icon Prince died April 21, 2016, from use of opioids. In this case, the musician died of fentanyl toxicity, and published reports in Minneapolis say he was just hours away from connecting with an addiction specialist.

The 57-year-old musician suffered from hip pain, and the autopsy report detailed a scar on his hip and lower right leg, the result of surgery after years of performing in high-heeled shoes. Prince is now among the highest-profile casualties of the nation’s opioid epidemic, which US health officials say claims 78 lives every day.

Sources told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that Prince had been treated by physician for symptoms of opioid withdrawal, but that doctor did not prescribe fentanyl. The account in the Star-Tribune said close friends reached out to California addiction specialist, Howard Kornfeld, MD, to help the ailing musician.

According to the account, Kornfeld could not fly to Minnesota immediately, so he sent his son who is a pre-med student to meet with Prince and a local addiction specialist. That visit was set for April 21, the morning Prince’s friends found his body inside his home.

Reports say state and federal investigators are trying to determine how Prince obtained fentanyl, a powerful, highly addictive opioid similar to morphine; fentanyl can cause respiratory distress, especially if used with other substances or alcohol.

Often prescribed in lozenges or patches, fentanyl has been dubbed “the new heroin” by law enforcement because it has become popular as a street drug when other opioids no longer provide the desired effect. Addicts using fentanyl powder or pills are using a drug that the CDC says is 50 to 100 times more powerful than other opioids, such as heroin. In October 2015, the CDC issued an alert to public health agencies and first responders about the rise in fentanyl-related deaths.

CDC recently issued new prescribing guidelines for primary care doctors to curb abuse, but that alone is unlikely to halt the alarming rise in opioid-related deaths. Since the prescription drug oxycodone was approved by FDA in the mid-1990s, prescriptions have quadrupled but so have opioid-related deaths. In 2014, more Americans than ever died from drug use, and 6 in 10 such deaths are from opioids. US health officials recently released nearly $100 million in new funds to treat addiction at the local level.