An accidental overdose of the powerful painkiller fentanyl killed music megastar Prince, a medical examiner’s report released Thursday reveals.
“The decedent self-administered fentanyl,” A. Quinn Strobl, MD, chief medical examiner for the Midwest Medical Examiner’s Office, noted in the findings.
Fentanyl, according to the National Institutes of Health, is a powerful synthetic opiate analgesic similar to but more potent than morphine. The prescription drug, often administered via injection, transdermal patch or in lozenge form, is typically used to treat patients with severe pain.
The one-page report gives no indication of how Prince obtained the drug.
“This public data includes manner and cause of death,” the medical examiner’s office wrote in a news release. “Under Minnesota Law, all other medical examiner data is considered private or nonpublic.”
Nor does the report list any other contributing factors or “significant conditions.”
The autopsy results follow weeks of speculation that the 57-year-old singer was addicted to pain medications when he was found dead on April 21 at his Paisley Park estate.
Prince’s use of painkillers and how he obtained them have been the focus of a criminal investigation. A judge sealed all records in the case, but no charges are known to have been filed.
“The Carver County Sheriff’s Office continues its investigation,” the medical examiner’s office stated.
Prince Rogers Nelson was pronounced dead at 10:07 a.m. on April 21 — 19 minutes after emergency responders arrived and tried to resuscitate the iconic artist. Investigators said he was last seen alive at about 8 p.m. the night before at Paisley Park, a sprawling compound that doubled as the reclusive singer’s recording studio and home in Chanhassen, Minn.
Prince’s estate manager, a personal assistant and Andrew Kornfeld, the son of a well-known addiction and pain management doctor, discovered the singer’s lifeless body in an elevator at about 9:40 a.m. and called 911.
When Prince took the fatal dose of fentanyl is “unknown,” according to the medical examiner’s release. The 5-foot-3 singer weighed 112 pounds and was wearing a black cap, black shirt, gray undershirt and black pants at the time of his death, according to the report. Prince had a scar on his left hip and on the lower part of his right leg.
Though the artist’s family and closest friends have not publicly addressed his alleged addiction, news reports have indicated that Prince may have started abusing medications following hip surgery several years ago due to the pounding his body took from decades of lively stage performances.
A week before his unexpected death, a private jet carrying Prince home from a concert in Atlanta made an emergency landing in Illinois when the singer reportedly suffered an opioid overdose and lost consciousness. Paramedics who met the plane reportedly gave Prince a shot of the opioid antidote Narcan.
According to court documents accidentally released in the case, Michael Todd Schulenberg, MD, a Minneapolis-area family practitioner, treated Prince on April 7 and the day before his death.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune, citing an unidentified source, reports that Schulenberg treated the singer for fatigue, anemia and concerns about opiate withdrawal, but did not prescribe opioids.
The sudden death of the entertainer has shed light on what the federal government recently called a national epidemic of opioid-related overdose deaths.
New guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urge doctors to avoid prescribing addictive opioid painkillers such as Oxycontin, Percocet and Vicodin whenever possible for most patients with chronic pain.
“More than 40 Americans die each and every day from prescription opioid overdoses,” CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, said in March. “Increased prescribing of opioids — which has quadrupled since 1999 — is fueling an epidemic that is blurring the lines between prescription opioids and illicit opioids.”
A Minneapolis criminal defense attorney has said Kornfeld was at the singer’s home on a “lifesaving mission” to convince Prince to come to California to start addiction treatment. Neither Kornfeld nor his father, Howard Kornfeld, has been accused of wrongdoing.
William Mauzy, the Kornfelds’ attorney, said Prince’s staff called the elder Kornfeld on April 20 to seek help with the entertainer’s addiction to painkillers. The doctor sent his son on a red-eye flight with a small amount of Suboxone, a drug used to treat pain and reduce opioid cravings.
Prince, who would have turned 58 next week, was cremated.
(This story has been updated since it originally published.)