Opioids

The War on Opioids Probably Helped Kill Prince

His fentanyl overdose came from counterfeit Vicodin, and he likely didn't know what he was ingesting.

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Prince memorial
Jack Kurtz/ZUMA Press/Newscom

Pop legend Prince died of a fentanyl overdose in 2016, probably because he bought what he thought was Vicodin on the black market. Today officials announced they are closing the investigation into Prince's death and will not be filing any charges because they don't know where he got the pills and found no evidence that any of his associates knew that the "Vicodin" he had been taking was actually fentanyl.

Remarkably, at the same time officials are announcing that there will be no charges over the drugs that actually killed Prince, officials also announced a civil settlement with a doctor who prescribed painkillers to Prince's associates, knowing the drugs would actually go to the musician. Although these were not the drugs that killed Prince, the doctor who helped him get access to painkillers through third parties has agreed to pay $30,000 and subject himself to federal monitoring for two years.

There does not seem to be any acknowledgment that efforts to make it harder for Prince to get his hands on the painkillers to which he became addicted might have caused him to seek black-market substitutes that were much more dangerous. From the story in the Minneapollis Star Tribune:

"Doctors are trusted medical professionals and, in the midst of our opioid crisis, they must be part of the solution," U.S. Attorney Greg Brooker said in a statement announcing the settlement. "As licensed professionals, doctors are held to a high level of accountability in their prescribing practices, especially when it comes to highly addictive painkillers. The U.S. attorney's office and the DEA will not hesitate to take action against healthcare providers who fail to comply with the Controlled Substances Act. We are committed to using every available tool to stem the tide of opioid abuse."

Just today Jacob Sullum noted that opioid-related deaths are rising dramatically even as opioid prescriptions decline. That's partly because lack of access to the drug through doctors is driving people to the black market, where they purchase pain pills of unknown provenance and composition. The circumstances of Prince's death should be a warning to the feds that cracking down on doctors is exactly the wrong way to prevent overdoses.

Also today, previously unseen footage of Prince practicing and performing "Nothing Compares 2 U" in 1984, years before he handed it over to Sinead O'Connor, has been released by his estate:

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  1. “…We are committed to using every available tool to stem the tide of opioid abuse.”

    Except for, you know, getting out of the way.

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    2. Dr. Lonny Shavelson found that 70% of female heroin addicts were sexually abused in childhood.

      Addiction is a symptom of PTSD. Look it up.

      1. Addiction can certainly be accelerated by the need to get out of your own brain that’s for sure. Sometimes it’s not about “feeling good” it’s about not feeling like your fucking world is melting.

        1. I’m making over $7k a month working part time. I kept hearing other people tell me how much money they can make online so I decided to look into it. Well, it was all true and has totally changed my life.

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  2. The circumstances of Prince’s death should be a massive warning to the feds that cracking down on doctors is the exact wrong way to prevent overdoses.

    You’re proceeding under the false assumption that the feds actually give a shit about preventing overdoses. I know, it’s an easy mistake to make.

    1. “You’re proceeding under the false assumption that the feds actually give a shit about preventing overdoses.”

      Almost ten years ago, I took a class from an professor who just happened to be the acting USA for the state at the time. It was a concern then.

      There’s two parts to the problem:
      1) How can we avoid creating so darn many opioid addicts?
      2) What do we do with/about the opioid addicts we’ve managed to accumulate?

      Solutions that address one of these questions may not be as effective in addressing the other.

      1. You know a study of the subject might prove informative.

        Dr. Lonny Shavelson found that 70% of female heroin addicts were sexually abused in childhood.

        Addiction is a symptom of PTSD. Look it up.

    2. Prohibition always becomes about defending the authority of the Prohibitionists, not about saving lives. Whether it is adding nastier poisons to industrial alcohol or spraying poison on marijuana fields, Prohibitionists are always ready to cause the deaths of those that disrespect their authority.

    3. The primary goal of law enforcement is to meet quotas. The primary goal of prosecuters is to put as many people as possible in jail, regardless of innocence, it’s more about how much “proof” you can conjure up and get another notch in your belt on the way to being attorney general.

  3. Wait – I’m confused. Is this supposed to be a pro or a con of the drug war?

    1. Definitely a con. We’re libertarians here, and so we love The Revolution.

      1. As a kid I remember some Prince video had these two hot-chick drummers who rubbed up against each other through the whole song. Now that would be a tragedy if they OD’d.

        1. Who on this board didn’t have a Carmen Electra poster, other than Tony?

          1. Girl, please. Nobody’s that gay.

        2. You couldn’t be more wrong. Prince was the most talented, creative, and prolific musician of the past 50 years atleast, if probably go as far as to say a whole century, but you’ve got to get past his presentation, or whatever hangup. There probably something in him for everyone to dislike, but I think that’s just a necessary part of of being a successful artist if it’s the emphasis he put on being unusual that turns you off there’s a video of his show in Vegas that came out early this millennium that’s much more of a conventional, almost cover band type thing (they do do a lot of covers), just the best cover band ever. Literally ever. What really impressed me about him too is he just kept getting better at guitar. Like he was always good but his earlier hits were never something I’d listen to for the guitar. most people that reach that level of fame stop oracticing, it seems like, but by the time I saw him in 2013, I think, everything he played was so perfect it almost came pre-cliched, if that makes sense. Like it was perfect, but a better perfection than I could have imagined. This is getting somewhat overwrought, but seriously, watch that l as Vegas show.

          1. Well, follow your own bliss. I don’t like popular music so I doubt I’d find the performance as amazing as you.

          2. Yup he was a musical genius. He could play almost any instrument and his guitar work was astonishing.

            Recently rewatched the video of the George Harrison tribute “While my Guitar Gently Weeps”. All these famous musicians and Prince comes out with a guitar solo. Wow I swear I could see sparks coming off the fretboard. It did make me weep when I saw it.

            Not only that but he could move like nobody else, and in heels no less.

            I think his passion is what did him in. He would not stop so the drugs covered things up for a while. Then as they say ” the lady will take you places you don’t want to go”

          3. Prince is pretty good. He did some truly timeless classics.

            But you’re overselling it man. To put Prince ahead of The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Queen, or any number of other groups is just not called for. If you want to talk individuals, you can still pick out Paul McCartney, or a lot of other folks, as being as good/better.

            Not trying to piss on your parade or anything, but Prince wasn’t THAT good. He was better than 99.9% of musicians, which is awesome, but he wasn’t the best of the last 50 or 100 years.

            1. To each, as they say, his own i guess, but to get quantifiable about it, he played all the instruments involved in all the groups you mentioned, aside from Sheila e doing some drumming, on almost everything he ever recorded. The big challenge of making music oday, I think, is how , if you’re working on a computer at least, absolutely everything you hear comes from the brain of one producer or whatever, which is a lot of stuff to pay attention to and a lot of ideas you have to have, and Prince not only put that amount of thought into his records he played it all live too – not as in all simultaneously at a show, obviously, I mean overdubbing on records, but being able to conceptualize every single sound you hear in a whole arrangement and then perform it is just bonkers. I can’t think of anyone else who even tried to do something like that (until.this millennium when twee, beardy hipsters started ,releasing cassettes of junk percussion) much less got decades of legit mtv style hits out of it. Blows.me away.

        3. That would have been keyboardist Lisa Coleman and backup vocalist Jill Jones in the “1999” video.

          It was a… formative influence on many of us.

  4. “We are committed to using every available tool to stem the tide of opioid abuse.”

    “However, every available tool appears to be a sledgehammer.”

    1. also:

      “We are committed to using every available tool to stem the tide of opioid abuse use.”

      There… that seems to be more on the mark.

  5. I’m skeptical that a rock star couldn’t find a doctor to proscribe him whatever he wanted.

    1. Or to prescribe him whatever he wanted.

      1. Your name should be…oh, wait, it is!

    2. Well, Prince *did* find a doctor to prescribe him meds. Prescriptions of opioids are tracked and reported in many states. And, to avoid the scrutiny of having prescribed *too many* meds to Prince, the doctor prescribed meds to Prince’s “friends” so they could fill the prescriptions and give them to Prince. What did Prince in was either he or his friends still being afraid to fill the prescription because the clerk at a licensed pharmacy might report the prescription as suspicious. The purchase of supposedly commercial meds (but which were counterfeit) from an informal (non-reporting) source did him in.

  6. If regulation of opiods was stopped and pure drugs were available free of charge to anyone who wanted them, would the death rate from abusing them go up or down?

    1. Down.

      The vast majority of ODs are caused by users getting in over their heads with something more potent that they were expecting – either because they got purer shit than normal and didn’t expect it kr because it was cut with something that amped the effect.

      Legalized, ypu cpuld get stuff with known and consistent dosing.

      1. Up. That’s what happened… We went from a period where doctors were paranoid about prescribing opioids because they didn’t want to create addicts, to one where we were concerned that people who had severe pain could get treatment for it. Just coincidentally, a new delivery method for opioid drugs was introduced, and the company that manufactured it advertised that there was a vastly-reduced risk of addiction from their new pills. So lots of people were able to get all the opioid drugs they wanted, then needed. Now we’re recognizing now many addicts the legal pills created, and clamping down again… which is forcing those addicts to turn to other sources to treat their withdrawal symptoms. Also coincidentally, we got ourselves involved in a war with Afghanistan, and so the farmers turned to the most lucrative cash crop they could… opium poppies. There’s a glut on the global supply, so prices are low.

        1. First of all, opioid prescriptions have been going down since 2011, so it’s be hard for that to explain the increase in addicts.

          Secondly, the postwar surge in Afghanistan has been waning for awhile ; most heroin in the US comes from Mexico or South America.

          http://www.businessinsider.com…..tan-2016-3

    2. Go way up, then drop and level off. The ‘free to everyone’ part might make the initial death toll pretty high, but eventually everyone still alive will be choosing to responsibly use or abstain from drugs due to personal convictions. When the product is consistent and information is readily available, responsible use is much easier.

      Those in favor of legalization point at Portugal a lot. They’ve decriminalized all drugs and removed a lot of the social stigma, and overdose deaths have plummeted. Create a social climate where addiction is seen as a conquerable condition and encourage people to quit, like we do with smokers and heavy drinkers.

    3. They wouldn’t have to be free. They’d be cheap enough that it wouldn’t be an issue if you didn’t have to cover the risk and trouble of skirting th a law. We’ve seen everything that’s legal get safer and cheaper many times over in the past few hundred years, if you leave out taxes, but even not doing so in a lot of cases. Drugs that aren’t illegal are a perfect example of heroin was as much better, cheaper, and safer this whole opioid crises wouldn’t exist and “breakfast can wait” was like Prince leveling up again, which makes the whole thing extra sad.

      1. “breakfast can wait” was like Prince leveling up again, which makes the whole thing extra sad.

        Just listened to it. You would probably like Vaporwave/Chillwave.

    4. You might get some sort of clue from happened in Portugal when drugs were decriminalized there.

      1. The US ain’t Portugal.

        Portugal’s medical system and pharma manufacturers/advertisers didn’t create the foundation of their addiction problem. Ours did. Via aggressive marketing to doctors – ads on TV – and an insurance system and cost structure that is incentivized to pay for pills but not to pay for treatment.

        So when Portugal said in 2001 – we should treat addicts via the medical system rather the prison system – their medical system could respond by doing something new (though it’s old/proven) to counter street-type addiction of people who had rarely been to the doctor for anything. They still imprison dealers/traffickers – and the threshold is ’10 days of personal use possessed or less’ (which is far less than Prince had stashed away in all his scrip bottles).

        What is being said in the US (at least re these articles) is quite different. Which is – let’s go back to the good old days of 1995-2011 – and doctors licenses shouldn’t have anything to do with whether their opioid prescriptions are medical or recreational – and it is dealing/trafficking which should be made legal. In the worst case what these articles are saying is that fentanyl itself, in whatever form, should be legal because apparently there is some magic that would occur to make it safer in that case.

        1. If it was legal you could be assured of its purity and dosage. The dose is the poison don’t you know?

          1. If it was legal you could be assured of its purity and dosage.

            Well that is transparent nonsense. The only reason you can say that is because in 1906 the FDA was created to mandate labels on patent medicines that a)identified contents such as alcohol, cocaine, morphine, etc and b)prohibited other contents like arsenic.

            The market did not create labels. The market did not create disincentives to include toxics in the formulation. And specifically the market that failed in this and thus led to regulation was – DRUGS.

            But thanks for confirming that the argument here is not the same as Portugal but is some distorted worship of bigpharma (which let me remind you again CREATED the damn problem here in the US by lying about both addiction risks and pain management efficacy) and/or markets.

            1. Oh – and ‘a legal market’ won’t do anything to stop a fraud from making a pill that looks like say an actual patented formulation (say Vicodin – see Prince) but that contains say fentanyl (see Prince). That was precisely why ‘patent medicine’ was called ‘patent’ ‘medicine’.

              Nor will it allow legal recourse in that case – because drumroll – the dead person eats the evidence.

  7. There does not seem to be any acknowledgment that efforts to make it harder for Prince to get his hands on the painkillers to which he became addicted might caused him to seek black-market substitutes that were much more dangerous.

    Maybe because that assertion sounds like nonsense. He had a regular doctor who was prescribing opioids. He had just made an appointment with a different doctor in CA to get more opioids (and it was that doctors son who brought opioids to MN and called the ambulance). He apparently had no problem at all getting opioids – and with his wealth, the safe assumption is that he could buy/bribe anyone he damn well wanted to supply anything.

    Just because his name was not on the prescription doesn’t mean a damn thing. Rich celebrities have all sorts of reasons why they purchase things in other people’s names – or eg pay off hookers using their lawyers – and plenty of people who will be that intermediary.

    In all likelihood, like most addicts he wasn’t looking solely to medicate pain anymore (which is all any doctor can ethically help with) but was looking for a drug for reasons that only a pusher can help with. Which is why it is his own addiction – not some govt war on anything – that prob killed him.

    1. Only a pusher could help this kind of problem.

      Dr. Lonny Shavelson found that 70% of female heroin addicts were sexually abused in childhood.

      Addiction is a symptom of PTSD. Look it up.

  8. Good Lord Reason, you’ve really gone off the rails now. He had a legal prescription for painkillers. That didn’t stop him from going on the black market, because the legal dose isn’t what an addict wants. Do you expect doctors to prescribe way above recommended dose, so addicts can legally abuse them? Do you really think people don’t overdose on legally prescribed drugs?

    Maybe you should be asking why hip pain was being treated with opioids which only mask it instead of physical therapy or surgery which could have resolved it. Doctors who prescribe opioids for conditions like this are no better than drug pushers on the street

    1. Which is what happened to Tom Petty as well. They knew he had a stress fracture that was getting worse. He was getting fentanyl and who knows what else at the same time.

  9. Sooooo what is the proposed solution here? For doctors to increase prescriptions? Cuz the general public is under the collective impression that big pharma and physicians are primarily responsible for the relatively recent spike in opioid use and deaths. Please clarify.

    1. All drugs to be OTC.

      1. Go for that

        Treat your own lymphoma. Not that hard. Anyone with web MD can get it.

        1. Where did I say don’t go to a doctor?

    2. You want the big answer or the small one?

      Small one. Docs gave out codeine Tylenol #3 and others for short term outpatient pain. There was little problem with that. Morphine was for surgerical, emergent, and hospital based treatment. The drug companies made other derivatives and showed evidence that oxycodone was more effective and had low risk. It could be used safely in general practice. Even fentanyl. It was not true.

      Pain in general practice. So idiot me threw out my back this past weekend. Was giving the dog a bath he needed, a slippery Labrador whatever.

      It is self limited I know having done it before. The pain in this case is useful, Advil is fine but the pain is telling me what not to do and the Sacroliliac is getting better. It is only one small thing but going out to the doc and getting anything stronger is counterproductive.

      That is not what people with chronic pain deal with. That is something else.

  10. I’ve had friends that ODed and died. The long and the short of it is that some people can’t handle their drugs. They can’t be responsible with stuff that should just be a once in awhile fun thing. With some of them I’d argue nobody should ever do them if they’re smart. Like Heroin which is what killed the main person I’m thinking of.

    You’re never going to get rid of idiots no matter what you do. Unless you could somehow stop all drugs from being made in the first place, lots of people will get hooked and die even if they have endless availability. I personally am of the belief that them being illegal doesn’t decrease the number who die, but I don’t think it increases it a TON either.

    Idiots gon’ idiot more or less IMO.

  11. Fucking hogwash. He put the crap in his mouth and swallowed. Nobody helped him, not even the guy who sold him bogus shit. Certainly not a gov’mint that tells him it’s illegal.

    He was an addict. No skin off my back as he could afford it without needing me to buy his groceries, feed his kids, or pay for his medical expenses. The govt didn’t force him to go search for drugs because it cracked down on over-prescribing. He chose it

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