According to the Midwest medical examiner’s office on Thursday, tests show that Prince died of an opioid overdose. The finding, however, is far from the final outcome of the investigation into the pop star’s death, and in many ways, it is just the beginning.
Toxicology tests concluded that Prince died from an accidental overdose of the opioid fentanyl. Generally prescribed by doctors for the treatment of cancer patients, fentanyl can be made illegally and has been known to cause many instances of death by overdose in the United States in recent years. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, the opioid is 25 to 50 times more potent than heroin and 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine.
Prince, whose full name was Prince Rogers Nelson, was found dead April 21 at the age of 57 after being found unresponsive in an elevator at his suburban Minneapolis estate.
The medical examiner’s report, which was released on Twitter, did not contain many details. “How injury occurred: The decedent self-administered fentanyl,” the report said. Additionally, a box was checked for “accident” under manner of death.
Prince’s death considered a criminal investigation
Although Prince’s death was formally ruled as an accident, this only suggests that the death was not intentional and does not rule out a criminal investigation.
In the months to come following Thursday’s announcement, investigators will attempt to resolve whether the pop star had a prescription for the medication or whether it was obtained illegally. If the latter is found to be the case, criminal charges carrying many years in prison could potentially brought to those found guilty.
Illegal distribution of fentanyl resulting in death is punishable by a mandatory minimum 20-year sentence under federal law. Under Minnesota law, where the singer was found dead, illegal distribution of fentanyl resulting in death could potentially result in third-degree murder charges and up to 25 years in prison.
Signs of addiction problems
On April 15, six days before his death, Prince’s private plane apparently made an emergency landing in Moline, Illinois. Prince was discovered to be unresponsive and was taken to a local hospital, where he was treated for a potential overdose of pain medication.
On April 20, the day before the superstar’s death, his team, seeking immediate aid for the singer, called a renowned opioid addiction specialist, according to the specialist’s attorney.
The specialist, Dr. Howard Kornfeld, was not able to travel to Minnesota immediately, so instead he sent his son, Andrew Kornfeld, on an overnight flight. According to his attorney, Kornfeld went with the goal of evaluating Prince’s health issues and to embolden him to undergo treatment for addiction issues and pain management.
However, by the time Kornfeld arrived at Prince’s Paisley Park complex on the morning of the 21st, he was too late. Andrew Kornfeld was one of the people to first discover Prince unresponsive in an elevator, and was the person who called 911.
The pop star’s death came roughly two weeks after he cancelled concerts in Atlanta, Georgia, citing that he was not feeling well. He then performed two makeup concerts in Atlanta, followed by his emergency plane landing in the Quad Cities. The artist then cancelled two concerts in St. Louis, Missouri shortly before his demise.
Authorities have disclosed that the investigation into the singer’s death is being considered a criminal investigation. Federal prosecutors and the Drug Enforcement Agency are currently investigating how these prescription medications were obtained and from whom.