Prince ‘didn’t know the pill that killed him was fake’

Prosecutors investigating the death of US musician Prince have said the evidence suggests he thought the Vicodin pill he took was genuine, and not counterfeit.

At the end of a two-year investigation into the singer’s death at 57, they have said no charges can be brought because they were unable to determine the source of the fake, which mimicked a genuine Vicodin tablet but in fact contained a lethal dose of the potent painkiller fentanyl. Other counterfeit pills were found in Prince’s Minnesota home when his body was discovered in April 2016.

"In all likelihood Prince had no idea he was taking a counterfeit pill that could kill him," said Mark Metz, attorney of Minnesota’s Carver County, at a press conference. The investigation has now been closed, he added.

Fentanyl is a schedule II prescription opioid approved for use in severe pain and is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. Of the more than 64,000 opioid overdose deaths in the US in 2016, 20,145 were attributed to fentanyl and synthetic opioids, more than twice the number in 2015.

The news emerged just a few hours after federal prosecutors reached a settlement with a doctor who was accused of illegally prescribing an oxycodone-based painkiller for Prince. Michael Todd Schulenberg agreed to pay $30,000 to settle a civil violation without admitting wrongdoing. The drug in question is not linked to Prince’s death.

New data from IMS Health and Quintiles (IQVIA) show that there was a 22% decrease in opioid prescribing between 2013 and 2017, suggesting that physicians are taking on board recommendations to follow recommendations to limit prescribing of these drugs.

On the face of it that looks very positive, but Dr Patrice Harris, chair of the American Medical Association’s Opioid Task Force, says it comes with a big rider: deaths continue to climb at a “staggering rate” from synthetic opioids such as heroin and illicit fentanyl.

“These statistics again prove that simply decreasing prescription opioid supplies will not end the epidemic,” he writes in a statement.

“We need well-designed initiatives that bring together public and private insurers, policymakers, public health infrastructure, and communities with the shared goal to improve access and coverage for comprehensive pain management and treatment for substance use disorders.”

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