Prince & The Opioid Epidemic

Prince, one of the world’s most famous pop stars, was found dead of unknown causes on April 21, 2016. More than a month later, however, the Midwest Medical Examiner’s Office in Minnesota released a report on his cause of death.

Opioid’s to Blame (Again)

They stated that Prince’s death was caused by an accidental overdose of fentanyl, an opioid that is many times more potent than heroin. A police warrant showed that Prince had been written a prescription for fentanyl by Dr Michael Schulenberg on the day before he died and that the singer was in the possession of prescription pain killers at the time of his death. It was believed that Prince was prescribed the opioids for his ongoing knee and hip pain caused by years of on-stage stunts.

An attorney for Prince’s half-siblings brought to light that Prince had an addiction to Percocet decades before his eventual death. One of Prince’s half-siblings also made clear that Prince had began to use opioids to deal with pain, not as a recreational drug, similar to many others who later become afflicted with opioid addictions. Six days before Prince’s death, on April 15, his plane made an emergency landing during a flight home from Atlanta, after Prince was found to be unresponsive. CNN reported that a law enforcement agent had said that Prince was treated for a potential overdose of opioids. Just a day before Prince’s death, his team contacted an opioid addiction specialist with the goal of getting the pop star into a proper pain management regime and to potentially treat him for addiction related issues. Prince’s story is only the most recent of many that is shedding light on the devastating opioid addiction problem facing the United States.

The Culprit

Fentanyl is the, “most potent opioid available for use in medical treatment,” according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. The US DEA has released a national report on the dangers of fentanyl, explaining that even doses as small as 0.25 mg it can be potentially lethal. The CDC has stated that fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroine, and 100 times stronger than morphine. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid painkiller that has been approved for treating severe pain. Despite its dangers, fentanyl is one of the most commonly prescribed pain killers. Fentanyl is a medication that comes on quickly and fades just as fast, so it is not useful for long term pain control. Fentanyl can administered in a variety of ways and forms from skin patches to injections to oral applications.

The Opioid Problem

There has been a 500% increase in fentanyl-related overdoses in Ohio alone between 2013 and 2014, but fentanyl only makes up part of the 78 fatal opioid overdoses that happen in the United States everyday. Most fentanyl-related overdoses are linked to fentanyl that has been laced with heroine or cocaine, according to the CDC. The rate of opioid overdoses has quadrupled since 1999, as has the number of prescriptions written for them. 32% of opioid prescriptions are being abused and often prescription opioid abuse leads to heroine use down the line.

In a testimony to congress by Nora D. Volkow, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a plan was laid out in attempt to relieve the United States of its opioid epidemic. Volkow listed a number of steps to increase education and add early intervention services to help decrease the number of opioid overdoses. In the plan, Volkow spoke about prescription drug monitoring programs, overdose education, abuse-deterrent drug formulas, and increased law enforcement to work against pill mills.

A Safer Alternative

Opioid addiction and overdose has become a tremendous issue. Cannabis has shown to be as effective as opioids in treating certain chronic pain and has fewer associated side effects than opioids. States that have legalized cannabis for medical purposes have see a tremendously lower annual opioid overdose death rate. Opioid overdose related death decreased by 20% after the first year of medical marijuana legalization and 33.7% after 5 years. Cannabis can also be used to supplement opioid use, decreasing the doses of opioids needed to control pain. From Elizabeth Warren and Baltimore Ravens player Eugene Monroe, people have been calling for cannabis to be legitimized and decriminalized for use as an alternative to opioid painkillers. Each overdose and tragedy amplifies the need for marijuana as a safer alternative to opioids that are reeking havoc throughout the United States.

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