Drug War

Prince's Death Being Used to Sell Painkiller Panic

Is there any way to stop the abuse of the word 'epidemic'?

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Prince
Credit: Abode of Chaos / photo on flickr

Was Prince addicted to painkillers, and is that what killed him? That's one of the latest issues surrounding Prince's sudden and surprising death (along with his failure to have a will). TMZ has tracked down a lot of circumstantial evidence for the possibility, but we probably won't know Prince's actual cause of death for a few more weeks.

The lack of a stated cause of death has not stopped a new host of opioid abuse panic stories from popping up in the wake. The Star Tribune in Minneapolis (where Prince lived) declared his death (if prescription related) highlighted an "epidemic" in the state:

State records show 336 deaths last year linked to excessive or abusive use of prescription opioids, such as oxycodone, or illicit opioids, such as heroin. That is six times higher than the opioid-related deaths in 2000, and an increase from 313 deaths in 2014.

Two-thirds of the deaths involved legal painkillers or the addiction treatment methadone, which can help wean drug abusers off opioids but is addictive itself.

I would point out that the population of the entire state of Minnesota is close to 5.5 million. A check through the most recent mortality stats for the state (2013) show about 41,000 deaths of citizens that year. About twice as many Minnesota citizens died of the flu or pneumonia than opioids. More than 1,000 people died from falls. Nearly 700 people committed suicide.

It is utterly absurd to call this death rate an "epidemic," but that's where we are, and there are significant real world consequences for people who are in pain trying to get treatment in a world where the government is quick to call them addicts. Any pharmacist who thinks he or she may have served Prince better lawyer up now. Some prosecutor out there is undoubtedly going to want to make a name for himself or herself here (and to make an example out of somebody else).

In addition, we're seeing the war on painkillers interfering with efforts to reform mandatory minimum sentencing. The latest version of the Senate's criminal justice reform bill that is intended to lower mandatory minimum sentencing actually adds a new mandatory minimum sentence for crimes involving the drug fentanyl, a prescription painkiller with a potential for addiction and abuse. So even while criminal justice activists are trying to scale back the devastating effects of the war on drugs, politicians are still looking for new ways to put more people in prison.

Read more from reason on opioids here.

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  1. The lack of a stated cause of death has not stopped a new host of opioid abuse panic stories from popping up in the wake.

    It’s likely fueled it. They have a couple weeks to stoke some fear and move some newspapers (or whatever). Is it ever not a good time to call for reining in pain management?

  2. Probably addiction – we’ll find out more as the details come out. Doctors must stop prescribing opiates so freely – this is what triggers the disease in the first place. Also we need to build that wall – to stop heroin from coming in over the boarders. And feed them pushers feet first into woodchippers.

    1. Meanwhile, because of this panic and the attention of the FDA, I can’t get enough painkillers when I have a surgery.

      Sure, I was only in pain for a couple of days …. really only beyond reason for about 12 hours. But I didn’t sleep at all that night in the hospital because they under-prescribed the morphine. And when I confronted my anesthesiologist and my surgeon about it in the morning they both told me that 2 years earlier they would have prescribed twice the dose for twice as long. But they are afraid of having their license pulled, so they keep doses low to avoid scrutiny.

      So thanks for that really shitty night, Federal Government. I appreciate you working so hard to protect me from getting high in order to save me from myself. Even though you don’t know me and have no idea that I don’t respond very strongly to opiates and don’t really have much in the way of addiction risk factors. Still, thanks for being top men and knowing what is best.

    2. AM – you are OFFICIALLY a fucking moron. Please kill yourself.

  3. Is there any way to stop the abuse of the word ‘epidemic’?

    Nope. Its an epidemic.

  4. Maybe this might help convince drugmakers to stop putting highly toxic acetaminophen in harmless opiates.

    1. It’s funny how acetaminophen is the drug of choice for doctors. I’d bet 90% of them have no idea that it operates in the liver.

      I wouldn’t be surprised if Prince suffered the same fate as Walter Payton.

    2. Is it really that bad? Honest question because I pop Tylenol all the time. Sometimes up to twenty pills a week when a series of migraines hit me. Add on the over indulgence of booze on the week end and you’ve got worried about the state of my liver.

      1. The FDA set the safe 24-hour dose limit of acetaminophen at 4,000 mg per adult, but some doctors say that it should be capped at 3,250 per day.

        That’s about 6x 500mg pills per day.

      2. My understanding is it’s safe if you take a little bit for a long period of time, more or less, but you don’t want to take a lot at once.

        1. Christ! Thanks for the head’s up Warty, Hugh. I definitely take less than six a day but I’ve been dealing with migraines for half my life and have consumed countless numbers of those bastards. Can’t use Ibuprofen because it makes my stomach upset, maybe need to try Naproxen Sodium.

          1. Try Maxalt. Got it from an asshole neurologist who told me it wouldn’t work.because I’m on Percocet for spinal arthritis and can’t take NSAIDs anymore as they’ve destroyed my digestive tract after 20 years…she believed my degenerative arthritis and hypermobility can only be cured by getting me off Percocet with no plan for the pain…addiction specialists have a lot of skin in the game and are partly responsible for this opioid “epidemic” I’d say the 300,000 people who die from. Unavoidable medical errors each year is the real epidemic …anyway Maxalt works like a charm and now gut wrenching pain after the headache subsides like it was with naproxen

  5. politicians are still looking for new ways to put more people in prison.

    Of *course*, Scott. It’s what they *do*.

    1. I saw a headline in my local paper today concerning the need to modernize dui laws to include “research chemicals”. Just like we need laws to stop people from moving their businesses to places the laws are more to their liking. you really need permission if you want to do that.

  6. my co-worker’s aunt makes $84 an hour on the computer . She has been fired from work for nine months but last month her pay was $19262 just working on the computer for a few hours. learn this here now

    ??? http://www.ReportMax90.com

  7. Prince’s death is also being used to flood the internet with stories about Prince’s death that I don’t care about.

    1. Will no one address the epidemic of *death* in this country?!

      1. Outlaw zygotes!

  8. The epidemic epidemic cannot be stopped.

    Epidemic.

      1. Endemic?

  9. He died from a painkiller overdose. Or AIDS. Or complications from the flu. We need to panic about all three of these things, obviously.

  10. Percocet probably killed Prince; actually Prince probably killed himself with Percocet; which otherwise would’ve just chilled in its bottle.

    Unmentioned in the coming Prince Percocet Propaganda Panic is acetaminophen doing as much damage as the opioids in said Percocet.

    1. You forgot purple.

      1. Damn it.

    2. Tylenol is surprisingly bad for you and very few people realize it. A couple years of drinking and taking it as hangover prophylaxis? Goodbye liver.

  11. Nearly 700 people committed suicide.

    It’s the fucking winters.

    1. Husband: What’s for dinner, snookums
      Wife: Asparagus
      Husband: Not again…BOOM!

  12. Obviously not suicide – Prince had everything a man could want. In fact he had just tweeted: “Everything is one-derful”. I’m tired of people trying to explain away the disease of addiction as suicide. It’s not. It’s a disease. That makes you have to take too much pills and stuff. And whichever doctor got him hooked should be fed feet first into a woodchipper.

    1. Please kill yourself.

  13. Cool story: one of our cats had to have surgery last spring. When it was time to pick him up, he had a Fentanyl patch on his back. Our vet told us we needed to bring him back in three days. Why? Because *they* needed to remove the used patch, to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands and becoming a tool of abuse. After much wrangling, they allowed us to remove it ourselves, after giving very detailed instructions about wrapping up the patch in multiple layers and secreting it away carefully, so we could return it to them for proper disposal when we came back to get his stitches out. My wife and I managed to suppress our laughter until we got home.

    1. I remember back right after the ephedra hysteria when they managed to make it so you can’t buy anything containing ephedra OTC without it being tracked and registered, I was in Walmart and bought some Claritan D. I was joking with the lady behind the counter after she asked for my ID about how everyone who buys sinus pills are drug fiends making crack and she freaked out. She told me ‘There was this couple in here yesterday and they bought 3 boxes of this! I know what they were doing, they’re poisoning little kids!’ She was really nervous and agitated so I just said ‘Oh yeah, for sure, right?’.

    2. This happened to me to, but with my dog. I got a very serious talk from the surgical assistant about the Fentanyl patch and was allowed to take if off myself because I promised to give it to a pharmacist afterwards. My dog whimpered in a very odd way while wearing that patch, which I’ve read is a common reaction to the opioids. I hope it meant he was super high to ease the pain.

      I remember the reading at the time about how the opioid panic has also made vets more reluctant to give out opioid pain meds and rely more on NSAIDS, with deadly results. So our pets are getting screwed too.

  14. Someone has to do something. Or else before you know it, libertarians take over and 5 year olds will be able to buy heroin and machine guns out of vending machines.

  15. Prince was important to me, without his guidance I would have never known where to buy a raspberry beret.

  16. One of our local news stations spending the eveving talking about “are your children addicted to electronics!” Idiots.

    1. I’m worried my daughters are going to start playing Rainbow Party 6!

      1. Just be glad it’s not My Little Pony or Farmville. Those have backwards Satanic messages.

    2. Local news stations are the ultimate pants shitters and hysteria mongers.

    3. The entire month of May will be filled with that crap.

  17. It appears we need to outlaw the flu, pneumonia, and falling. Some geniuses have already outlawed suicide.

  18. What really infuriates me is even people nominally against the drug war talking about “the pendulum swing back in the opposite direction” with regards to doctors prescribing opiates too freely, with the implication there was EVER adequate pain care for most people. The reality is few people had access to a single doctor willing to prescribe enough to do more than make the pain tolerable, and only true abusers generally went to multiple doctors. Even at the “height” of ease of access, chronic non-terminal pain was severely undertreated, and is orders of magnitude worse now. People confused the ease of junkies abusing the system with the ease of the 99% of non-junkies accessing pain meds. They look at our prescription numbers compared to other countries, and mistakenly conclude we’re overprescribed when the reality is others are just even more undertreated.
    Even among those taking opiates for effects other than pain relief, just what problems do people think there would be exactly if someone could just get as much as they needed to feel good from a single doctor and not feel underprescribed or forced to take less/stop? Pharmacologically, opiates are extremely safe. Overdoses due to opiates alone in people tolerant to high doses are virtually non-existant, it always involves taking way more than prescribed in combination with other downers like alcohol or benzos also in large quantities.

    1. Sorry… not done with rant:

      Almost all of the “problems” associated with opiate use stems from legal status: not being able to get enough, due to laws and money. Somebody prescribed what they feel is enough from a single doctor, who is able to afford their prescriptions, can live a normal, functional life with virtually no ill effects, even if they’re taking huge doses for recreational purposes. Any regulation or law that prevents that only INCREASES the remaining harm from abusive usage (e.g. showing up to work or driving while impaired). Diversion wouldn’t be an issue if everyone could get it from the doctor. And people who wanted to stop would be fully and honestly participating in the medical system, and would have numerous options to deal with their physical dependence or problem use.
      Bottom line is there is zero legitimate reason to restrict the ability of doctors to prescribe any quantity of opiates to anyone who wants them. Any opposition is rooted either in sadomoralism or insufficient understanding of harm minimization and/or misattribution of negative effects properly attributed to restrictions.

      1. How can you say opioids are safe after what happened to Prince? He obviously was addicted and used opioids as a crutch. That crutch helped him write songs, perform on stage, get rich and have sex with beautiful women, then die a few years earlier than normal. No one would rationally chose to live fast and die young. How could you wish such a life on someone?!

        1. I know you’re being sarcastic, but I’d be thoroughly shocked if prescribed opiates alone killed him. First off, everything is talking about Percocet. Seriously abusing that will put serious damage on your liver from the acetaminophen. And any OD from opiates almost certainly involved other substances. Prescribed opiates (known dose) alone in a tolerant and experienced user are no more dangerous than alcohol; you’ve got be spectacularly reckless.

          1. Usually people die from opiate overdosed when they’re mixing prescripton pills and the dreaded alcohol …none of this should be illegal and frankly why prescripton opiates are prescripton is beyond me when Tylenol and NSAIDs are so dangerous…they just don’t have the immoral taint that our society places on the people who use them. I’ve been on the same dose of Percocet and Valium for ten years with no tolerance and never drink alcohol to be safe. I take them so I can function and have some participation in the world and have never gotten high or euphoric just the relief of pain being dissipated to a tolerable level.

  19. Eh, anecdotal of course, but my mother in law passed away several months ago, due to a prescription pill overdose. She had been abusing them for several years, and the extended family tried very hard to help her stop. Multiple interventions, talking to her doctors, her husband hiding and then lockng the pills away and coming home from work to give her her pills at the scheduled times. None of it worked, she just got different pills from a few friends. My father in law even went to those friends and threatened them, trying to dry up her supply. The last six months of her life, we tried to come to terms with that fact that an overdose would take her from us, that we wouldn’t be able to persuade her to stop – she had come close to od’ing several times.
    I’m not sure how I feel about prescription pills, I’m a bit too fresh off of that. Certainly, I don’t think the people who are trying to do something about it are stupid, or evil, or whatnot – I know first hand how traumatic that path is, the endless drama and recriminations and struggle. I think you may have to just live with it, and try not to be surprised when someone od’s – people are gonna do what they want. All you can do is try and help as much as you can.

    I ain’t gonna tell my wife that, though, not so directly. She still breaks down crying every now and then about her mom.

    1. Crater, I’m sorry for what happened to your mother. Of course people seriously abuse substances until it kills them- but it’s not any different than an alcoholic who drinks themselves to death. Someone who is that intensely self destructive has to decide on their own to seek help. If her doctor had cut her off, would she have just accepted that? Or gone deeper into the illegal market or the physically and psychologically more harmful course of severe alcoholism? It would have been the latter, and she’d be far worse off and likely died far sooner.
      While we don’t know what the doctor did, all he could do to help would be to strongly push for counseling and treatment. If somebody is hell bent on refusing every offer of help, medical intervention like commitment is certainly debatable, but one thing that absolutely won’t help is driving her away from doctors. We know what restricting opiate access does… people don’t just shrug and resign to sobriety.
      If her doctor on the other hand wasn’t trying hard to get her help, or to follow a more regimented medication plan, it would be unethical.. but best dealt with through medical boards or in extreme cases civil malpractice suits, like all medicine except for controlled substance prescribing.
      As for family… sometimes there’s just nothing further possible to do. Although I do wonder; did you have access to naloxone? If it wasn’t available, that’s something that could had helped had she and everyone around her had access.

  20. Eh, anecdotal of course, but my mother in law passed away several months ago, due to a prescription pill overdose. She had been abusing them for several years, and the extended family tried very hard to help her stop. Multiple interventions, talking to her doctors, her husband hiding and then lockng the pills away and coming home from work to give her her pills at the scheduled times. None of it worked, she just got different pills from a few friends. My father in law even went to those friends and threatened them, trying to dry up her supply. The last six months of her life, we tried to come to terms with that fact that an overdose would take her from us, that we wouldn’t be able to persuade her to stop – she had come close to od’ing several times.
    I’m not sure how I feel about prescription pills, I’m a bit too fresh off of that. Certainly, I don’t think the people who are trying to do something about it are stupid, or evil, or whatnot – I know first hand how traumatic that path is, the endless drama and recriminations and struggle. I think you may have to just live with it, and try not to be surprised when someone od’s – people are gonna do what they want. All you can do is try and help as much as you can.

    I ain’t gonna tell my wife that, though, not so directly. She still breaks down crying every now and then about her mom.

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