Drug Abuse
July 19, 2016
Can overdose deaths be reduced?

Musician Prince’s death in April from an overdose of fentanyl is reinforcing the idea that no area of society is immune from the problem of opioids, a class of pain-relieving drugs, including painkillers and heroin, whose abuse has been called a national public health crisis. States report continued increases in deaths attributed to opioids. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other federal agencies are overhauling their approaches to the epidemic. Before leaving for its summer recess in July, Congress approved bipartisan legislation to address treatment, while states are enacting prescription limits and presidential candidates are debating the merits of treatment over interdiction. Organized medicine is pledging to help curb addiction, and pharmacies are making the overdose-reversing drug naloxone available without a prescription.

Music star Prince speaks at the American Music Awards in November 2015. He died from what was determined in June to be an overdose of the opioid fentanyl. (Getty Images/Kevin Winter)   Music star Prince speaks at the American Music Awards in November 2015. He died from what was determined in June to be an overdose of the opioid fentanyl. (Getty Images/Kevin Winter)

Prince’s death in April from an overdose of fentanyl — a painkiller 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine — served as a sad exclamation point to the warnings of many public health officials: The opioid epidemic now infests a broad swath of America. 1 That same month, 44 percent of respondents to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll said they knew someone who has been addicted to prescription painkillers. 2

Despite Prince’s longtime reputation as a nondrug user, a toxicology report on the 57-year-old musical icon showed he was addicted to fentanyl, which he had used to deal with hip pain, and died of an accidental overdose. He reportedly was preparing to enter a treatment program. 3

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