Prince’s Hidden Painkiller Problem

A look at the star's secret and fierce battle with opioids

We now know that Prince, the pop superstar, died from a drug overdose. The 5’3”, 112-pound singer and musician self-administered the synthetic opiate, fentanyl, said officials in Minnesota.

Prince’s drug use was allegedly related to knee and hip pain suffered after years of dramatic performances on stage.

The news ended a swirl of speculation about what exactly had killed the rocker, 57, who was found collapsed on the floor in an elevator at his Paisley Park estate on April 21. First responders tried to revive him with CPR but he was pronounced dead shortly afterward.

Prince had perpetuated an image of clean living — but he was obviously battling a hidden dependency on drugs. Fentanyl is a dangerous painkiller, estimated to be some 50 times more powerful than heroin, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A spike in the abuse of prescription painkillers has been a problem for more than a decade now, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Prince needed help, clearly. But he was too late in getting it.

His lawyers told reporters that Prince was preparing to enroll in a treatment program the day before he died. A doctor had even sent his son to the singer’s home with a small amount of buprenorphine, a synthetic drug used to treat opioid addiction. It was hoped Prince would check into a California facility for long-term care.

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Six days before Prince was found dead, his private plane was returning to Minneapolis after two Atlanta concerts when it made an emergency landing in Moline, Illinois. Sources said the stop was made because Prince was overdosing on opioids, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Prince’s bodyguard carried him to waiting paramedics at the airport and he was given a shot of the opioid antidote Narcan. He was back on his way several hours later.

Prince’s drug use was allegedly related to knee and hip pain the star suffered as a result of years of performing. His former fiancee, singer Sheila E., told “Entertainment Tonight” in April that it stemmed from years of jumping off risers on stage, combined with the fact that Prince always wore heels.

“He was in pain all the time, but he was a performer,” she said.

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The “Raspberry Beret” singer was raised a Seventh-day Adventist and later became a Jehovah’s Witness — which may have played into his health decisions as well.

He reportedly started taking Percocet in 2006 when he first had pain. In 2013, reports emerged that Prince needed a double hip replacement, though some reports said he had undergone hip replacement surgery in 2010. Blood transfusions were against his beliefs as a Jehovah’s Witness, which may have caused him to delay surgery.

In addition to knee, hip, and ankle issues, Prince was born with epilepsy, he said in 2009.

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He told radio host Tavis Smiley that divine intervention played a role in helping him cope with the epilepsy. “My mother told me [that] one day I walked in to her and said, ‘Mom, I’m not going to be sick anymore,’ and she said ‘Why?’ and I said ‘Because an angel told me so.’ Now, I don’t remember saying it, that’s just what she told me.”

Prince was cremated in a private ceremony on April 24. The singer’s family is said to be planning a public memorial in August. The Carver County Sheriff’s Office is continuing to investigate the death with help from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.

In March of last year, the DEA warned that fentanyl was a “threat to health and public safety.” Even small doses of fentanyl can be lethal; overdoses related to the drug were “occurring at an alarming rate.”

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Many stars have battled painkiller addictions through the years, from Michael Jackson to Heath Ledger to Jamie Lee Curtis. Chevy Chase said he became addicted to painkillers in the 1980s after his many comedic pratfalls left him with chronic back pain.

“Friends” actor Matthew Perry said in a 2002 interview with Larry King, “I got into a serious problem with painkillers, a painkiller called Vicodin.”

Rush Limbaugh said in 2003 he was addicted to OxyContin.

Kelly Osbourne said in 2010 she had a Vicodin habit that led her to take “50 painkillers a day.”

Steven Tyler, who has battled addictions to alcohol and drugs, told People magazine in April as he reacted to Prince’s death: “Doctors are the new pushers. All of America isn’t strung out on street drugs — they’re strung out on prescribed drugs.”

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