Pills containing the dangerous drug fentanyl were found in falsely labeled bottles at the home of the late artist Prince.
Exactly four months ago on April 21, 2016, the pop superstar was found dead, the result of an overdose on fentanyl, in his estate outside Minneapolis. The Midwest Medical Examiner’s office said the singer died due to accidental overdose and listed the cause of death as “fentanyl toxicity.” However, in the span of 12 months, before he died, there were no records showing the 57-year-old pop icon had prescriptions for any controlled substances in the state of Minnesota. Authorities are still investigating how Prince obtained the drugs.
An official close to the investigation said on Sunday that a number of the pills taken from Prince’s estate in Paisley Park after his death were counterfeit drugs that actually contained several controlled substances including fentanyl – the synthetic opioid 50 times more powerful than heroin.
A surprising number of pills were discovered scattered among the singer’s belongings. About a dozen pills were found in a dressing room at Paisley Park, but many more were discovered inside bottles of vitamin C and aspirin tucked in a suitcase and bag that Prince often carried with him. Officials said they even found some loose pills inside the bag.
Nearly two dozen pills were reportedly found inside a falsely labeled bottle stamped “Watson 385.” The stamp is used to identify pills containing a mix of acetaminophen and hydrocodone, however, one pill from the same bottle tested positive for fentanyl. 60 more counterfeit pills were found in another aspirin bottle. Authorities also found 10 oxycodone pills inside a prescription bottle registered to someone else’s name.
Laboratory analysis of the pills reveals they contain not just fentanyl but other synthetic drugs as well, such as lidocaine and U-4770. However, Prince was not tested for the presence of U-4770 since the levels of fentanyl in his system were more than enough to be toxic. Also, tests for U-4770 are not done routinely because it is a relatively new chemical.
Prince’s autopsy reports show he had diazepam, lidocaine and hydrocodone acids in his body. Lidocaine is a local anesthetic while diazepam is sold as Valium and it used for anti-anxiety, sedation and seizure control. Prince had been known to suffer seizures since he was a child.
Prince had a number of tests prior to his death, but fentanyl did not show up in the results. It indicates that he wasn’t a long-time abuser of the drug but likely took the fatal dose sometime in the 24-hour span before he died.
Officials did not elaborate more on those tests.
At least one doctor had been subjected to investigation. Dr. Michael Todd Schulenberg reportedly saw Prince on April 7 and again on the day before he died, April 20. In one of the search warrants, the doctor told detectives he had ordered tests for Prince and then prescribed medications according to the test results. Amy Conners, the doctor’s attorney, said patient-privacy laws do not allow her client to say what prescriptions were given to Prince.
The investigation on Prince’s death is occurring at the same time the U.S. attorney’s office in Minnesota is stepping up efforts to crack down on opioid abuse. The Drug Enforcement Administration believes drug traffickers have been expanding the illicit fentanyl market by creating counterfeit pills that contain the synthetic opioid. They have reason to believe China-sourced fentanyl and precursor chemicals are being sold to drug traffickers who, in turn, run the pill counterfeiting operations in North America.
It has been four months since Prince’s death, but investigators are still digging for more evidence in the hopes of finding the answers needed to solve the mystery of how Prince got the drug and what happened in his final hours. Without definitive answers, it seems more and more likely that Prince became a casualty of what is being called a new national crisis of deadly counterfeit pills.
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