The toxicology results from the autopsy of music icon Prince are in. Officials from the Midwest Medical Examiner’s Office have revealed that Prince, 56, died of an accidental overdose of the synthetic opioid fentanyl. They declined any additional comments on the case, stating it there was still an ongoing investigation into the matter. No information has been released as to how Prince obtained the drug.
It was known that Prince suffered from severe hip pain, caused by years of performances, in which he often did splits or jumped from heights in platform shoes. It has been reported that Prince had hip surgery in the mid-2000s, but it “did not completely alleviate his pain. The medical examiner’s report noted a scar on Prince’s left hip as well as one on his lower right leg.”
Officials are, no doubt, looking into how and where Prince obtained the drug.
Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opiate analgesic similar to but more potent than morphine. It is said to be 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. It is typically used to treat patients with severe pain, or to manage pain after surgery. It is also sometimes used to treat people with chronic pain who are physically tolerant to opiates. It is a schedule II prescription drug.
Schedule II drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with a high potential for abuse, with use potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence. These drugs are also considered dangerous. Some examples of Schedule II drugs are:
Combination products with less than 15 milligrams of hydrocodone per dosage unit (Vicodin), cocaine, methamphetamine, methadone, hydromorphone (Dilaudid), meperidine (Demerol), oxycodone (OxyContin), fentanyl, Dexedrine, Adderall, and Ritalin
In its prescription form, fentanyl is known as Actiq, Duragesic, and Sublimaze. Street names for the drug include Apache, China girl, China white, dance fever, friend, goodfella, jackpot, murder 8, TNT, as well as Tango and Cash.
How do Opioids Affect the Brain?
Opioids act by attaching to specific proteins called opioid receptors, which are found in the brain, spinal cord, and gastrointestinal tract. When these compounds attach to certain opioid receptors in the brain and spinal cord, they can effectively change the way a person experiences pain.
In addition, opioid medications can affect regions of the brain that mediate what one perceives as pleasure, resulting in the initial euphoria or sense of well-being that many opioids produce. Repeated abuse of opioids can lead to addiction—a chronic, relapsing disease, characterized by compulsive drug seeking and abuse despite its known harmful consequences.
Medications called opiate receptor antagonists act by blocking the effects of opiate drugs. Naloxone is one such antagonist. Overdoses of fentanyl should be treated immediately with an opiate antagonist.
When prescribed by a physician, fentanyl is often administered via injection, transdermal patch, or in lozenge form. However, the type of fentanyl associated with recent overdoses was produced in clandestine laboratories and mixed with (or substituted for) heroin in a powder form.
Mixing fentanyl with street-sold heroin or cocaine markedly amplifies their potency and potential dangers. Effects include: euphoria, drowsiness/respiratory depression and arrest, nausea, confusion, constipation, sedation, unconsciousness, coma, tolerance, and addiction.
Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse