Prince's death adds to opioid overdose epidemic's grim toll - InfoNews

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Prince's death adds to opioid overdose epidemic's grim toll

FILE - In this Feb. 4, 2007 file photo, Prince performs during the halftime show at the Super Bowl XLI football game at Dolphin Stadium in Miami. For the first full sales week following Prince’s death on April 21, 2016, five of his albums were in Billboard’s top 10, at Nos. 2, 3, 4, 6 and 7. Only Beyonce’s “Lemonade” kept him from the top. Billboard says no artist has had that many albums in the Top 10. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara, File)
June 02, 2016 - 11:18 AM

Prince's death from an opioid overdose is another example of the national opioid epidemic driven by prescription painkillers.

Prescription opioid overdoses reached nearly 19,000 in 2014, the highest number on record. Total opioid overdoses surpassed 29,000 that year when combined with heroin, which some abusers switch to after becoming hooked on painkillers.

A law enforcement official told The Associated Press on Thursday that tests show the music superstar died of an opioid overdose. The 57-year-old singer was found dead April 21 at his Minneapolis-area estate.

The official, who is close to the investigation, spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. Investigators have been reviewing whether Prince was prescribed drugs in the weeks before his death.

An autopsy was done the day after Prince's death. A person with knowledge of the medical examiner's plan says the autopsy results are expected to be released Friday.

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WHAT IS A LETHAL DOSE?

It's tricky with opioids. Anyone who takes prescription opioid painkillers for a long time builds up a tolerance to the drugs. A dose that could kill one person might provide medicinal pain relief to another.

Experts in medical toxicology say it's important to know how much opioid medication a person has been using before a death to know how to interpret post-mortem blood levels. Pill bottles and medical history may become crucial evidence.

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DOES PAIN TREATMENT LEAD TO ADDICTION?

Prince had a reputation for clean living, and some friends said they never saw any sign of drug use. But longtime friend and collaborator Sheila E. has told the AP that Prince had physical issues from performing, citing hip and knee problems that she said came from years of jumping off risers and stage speakers in heels.

Becoming tolerant to opioid painkillers may lead some patients to seek stronger drugs from their doctors. Some users — whether they start as recreational users or legitimate pain patients — become addicted, experiencing an inability to control how much they take, so they use much more than is prescribed or seek out drugs on the black market.

With good management, however, opioids can offer relief to people with only a small risk of addiction, according to a 2010 review of the available studies.

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WHAT WAS ALREADY KNOWN ABOUT PRINCE?

Questions about Prince's health surfaced April 15, when his plane made an emergency stop in Moline, Illinois. The Associated Press and other media reported, based on anonymous sources, that Prince was found unconscious aboard the aircraft, and first responders gave him a shot of Narcan, an antidote used to reverse suspected opioid overdoses.

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WHO IS THE MEDICAL EXAMINER?

Dr. A. Quinn Strobl, who has been the chief medical examiner at the Midwest Medical Examiner's Office since late 2009, performed the autopsy on Prince herself. Her office is the official coroner for 19 counties in Minnesota, including Carver County, where he was found dead.

Strobl has been a practicing forensic pathologist since she finished her fellowship in 2005 and is board-certified in anatomic, clinical and forensic pathology.

According to a 2009 (Minneapolis) Star Tribune article, Strobl is a native of Philadelphia who attended Penn State and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. She considered going into family practice and surgery, and decided being a medical examiner was a good mix of the two.

"I interact directly with the family. I deliver the diagnosis, and I answer a wide spectrum of questions," she told the newspaper. "I don't deliver the bad news. Hopefully, I deliver answers."

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Associated Press writers Michael Tarm in Chicago and Amy Forliti in Minneapolis contributed to this report.

News from © The Associated Press, 2016
The Associated Press

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