Editorials

Prince’s death puts opioid crisis at center stage

A mourner and fan touches the star for Prince on a wall at First Avenue where the singer often performed in Minneapolis.
A mourner and fan touches the star for Prince on a wall at First Avenue where the singer often performed in Minneapolis. The Associated Press

Superstars die of overdoses from illicit drugs. Heroin. Cocaine. There’s nothing new about that.

But Prince’s death, already an unexpected loss for pop culture and music, could turn out to be part of a new twist on that tragic story – yet another casualty in America from prescription painkillers. Since the 57-year-old artist was found slumped in an elevator at his Paisley Park estate last week, reports have circulated that he had a longstanding addition to Percocet.

Now, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, authorities are investigating the role of opioids in his death, in part because the prescription painkillers were found at the scene.

Even more troubling are reports that, just days before his death on April 21, Prince’s private jet made an emergency landing and paramedics had to give him a shot of the opioid overdose antidote Narcan.

If all of this true – and we’ll have to wait weeks for the toxicology report to find out for sure – it will only fuel the already fiery conversation about opioid abuse in this country. That won’t bring back Prince’s artistry, but it could raise awareness for an epidemic that the general public too often misunderstands and overlooks.

Prince’s death, already an unexpected loss for pop culture and music, could turn out to be part of a new twist on an old tragic story – another rock star overdose, this time thanks to the prescription painkillers that are claiming so many American lives.

Everyone knows heroin is dangerous. But what about Percocet? Or Norco? Or Vicodin?

Millions of Americans are hooked on these and other opioids – a class of drugs that includes brand-name versions of oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine and fentanyl, as well as the illicit drug heroin.

Most people start off innocently ingesting the painkillers under the direction of doctors. This can lead to addiction, though. It is more common than most people imagine to go from a seemingly harmless prescription for Percocet to full-on, uncontrollable addiction, and from there to a fatal overdose.

Tens of thousands of Americans die from overdoses every year. More than in car crashes. If this is what happened to Prince, it’s sad and it’s shocking. But it also could serve as the biggest wake-up call yet that opioid addiction is a public health crisis that must be addressed with more urgency.

If that were to happen, it would do more than commemorative showings of “Purple Rain” at movie theaters across the country to honor his memory.

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