Local Current Blog

Prince died of fentanyl overdose, says medical examiner

A memorial at Paisley Park (Bridget Bennett for MPR)

The Midwest Medical Examiner has released its autopsy report for Prince, revealing that “the decedent self-administered fentanyl.” Fentanyl is an extremely potent synthetic opioid commonly used for pain relief. The death was ruled an accident.

It has been widely speculated that opioids were the cause of Prince’s death. Reports have detailed contact between Prince’s representatives and Howard Kornfeld, a California doctor who specialized in treating opioid addiction. Prince was expected to meet with Kornfeld’s son on April 21, the day Prince was found dead at Paisley Park. The preceding week, Prince was reportedly treated for an opioid overdose when his plane made an emergency landing in Illinois. He saw a Minnesota physician the day before his death, and was prescribed medications of an unknown nature.

The Carver County Sheriff’s Office has been leading an investigation into the cause and circumstances of Prince’s death, in cooperation with the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. At an April press conference, investigators said they had no reason to suspect foul play or suicide.

Though Prince was famed for his clean living (he was vegan and did not drink alcohol), he seems to have developed a dependency on painkillers — possibly initially prescribed to help him manage pain from years of taxing stage performances. Among the open questions surrounding his death is whether the fentanyl was prescribed to him by a doctor.

Last year, the National Drug Early Warning System issued an alert saying that fentanyl abuse is spreading quickly in the United States, a cause for significant and immediate concern. Addiction specialist Charles Reznikoff told MPR News that he considers fentanyl “the Ebola of opioids. Fentanyl kills you quickly, very quickly, as opposed to many of the other opioids that take a long time and are less apt to kill you.”

The autopsy report confirms that Prince was among the many casualties of a painkiller epidemic that’s sweeping America; physicians are now being cautioned to avoid prescribing opiates for chronic pain.