The Death of Prince and America’s Problem with Pills


PRINCE pictured April 26, 2008 – Indio, California

Death Of The Pop Idol Prince

The recent death of the pop idol Prince has thrown the problem of prescription drug abuse into sharp relief.  Illicit substance abuse is a problem that many people are familiar with, and the use of illicit drugs has immediate and obvious consequences; however, there are many psychoactive and psychotropic medications that have legitimate medicinal uses that can also be used and abused for recreational purposes.  Prescription drugs, particularly painkillers, are an interesting and difficult issue because of these legitimate uses— many people who abuse and misuse prescription painkillers had a legitimate reason to use these substances in the past, often prescribed these drugs by a legitimate medical professional.  National and international news syndicates have been reporting that the county sheriff responsible for the inquiry and investigation into the death of Prince has asked for the help of the Drug Enforcement Administration, or DEA, a federal law enforcement body tasked with fighting the War on Drugs.  News outlets like NBC and Vanity Fair have also reported that in the weeks prior to his death, Prince was hospitalized once as a result of an overdose of the prescription painkiller Percocet.  Most sources have also reported that Prince was a known user of prescription pain medication, including opioids like Percocet.

It is sometimes assumed that fame goes hand-in-hand with drug addiction and abuse, but even for the rich and famous, the abuse of prescription medication like opioids can be immensely destructive.  The evidence seems to suggest that pop icon Prince’s death had something to do with his addiction to and use of prescription painkillers— many news outlets are reporting that those close to the artist knew of his problem with prescription painkillers, noting that he was prescribed the strong medication for the pain he experienced as a result of damage to his hips from decades of performing on stage.

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) suggests that 52 million people over the age of 12 in the United States have used prescription medication of all types non-medically in their lifetime, and 6.1 million people have used these types of medications for non-medical purposes in the past month alone.  In 2010 alone, a PBS study reports, enough prescription painkillers with powerful opioid compounds like Percocet, Vicodin, and oxycodone were prescribed to medicate every American adult every four hours for one month.  The sheer magnitude of painkillers and other prescription drugs with psychotropic and psychoactive compounds available to adults and children alike is staggering, and most people who use these drugs non-medically receive them for free from a friend or relative.

Prescription painkillers and other medications like stimulants and tranquilizers can be incredibly useful, powerful medications, but they also have massive potential for overuse and abuse.  Unfortunately, as investigators suspect in Prince’s case, the abuse of prescription painkillers can also be quite deadly.  Percocet and other prescription painkillers are also immensely addictive, and can be quite destructive to the overall functionality of an individual.  Because many of the active compounds in these painkillers are pharmacologically related to opiates like heroin, opium, and morphine, these drugs can be massively addictive even for people who have a legitimate, prescribed use.

Prince’s death sheds light on one of the most common drug misuse and abuse problems in the United States, and it underscores one of the most common misconceptions regarding drug use: just because a drug does have a legitimate medicinal use does not mean that a drug is completely harmless. While many of these drugs do indeed have legitimate medical purposes, taking them recreationally or for non-medical purposes can be just as dangerous and just as potentially destructive as taking illicit street drugs.  Prescription painkiller withdrawal is quite unpleasant, but treatment for the addiction is fundamentally important for addicts, because of the relatively high likelihood of eventual overdose and even death as a result of opiate abuse.

If you or someone you love is struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, please contact our Admissions team at (866) 905-4550. There is help, recovery is possible.