Prince thought he was taking a common painkiller and probably did not know a counterfeit pill he ingested contained fentanyl, a Minnesota prosecutor said Thursday as he announced that no charges would be filed in the musician’s death.
Carver County Attorney Mark Metz said Prince had suffered from pain for years and was addicted to pain medication. While some of the superstar’s associates might have enabled his drug habit and tried to protect his privacy, “We have no direct evidence that a specific person provided the fentanyl to Prince.”
“In all likelihood, Prince had no idea that he was taking a counterfeit pill that could kill him,” Metz said.
Metz’s announcement came just hours after the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced that a doctor who was accused of illegally prescribing an opioid for Prince agreed to pay $30,000 to settle a civil violation of a federal drug law. Dr. Michael Todd Schulenberg allegedly wrote a prescription for oxycodone in the name of Prince’s bodyguard, intending for the potent painkiller to go Prince. That prescription was not linked to Prince’s death.
Prince was 57 when he was found alone and unresponsive in an elevator at his Paisley Park studio compound on April 21, 2016. His death sparked a national outpouring of grief and prompted a joint investigation by Carver County and federal authorities.
An autopsy found he died of an accidental overdose of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 50 times more powerful than heroin. State and federal authorities have been investigating the source of the fentanyl for nearly two years.
“My focus was lasered in on trying to find out who provided that fentanyl, and we just don’t know where he got it,” Metz said. “We may never know. … It’s pretty clear from the evidence that he did not know, and the people around him didn’t know, that he was taking fentanyl.”
Metz’s announcement effectively closed the case.
“There is no doubt that the actions of individuals will be criticized, questioned, and judged in the days and weeks to come,” Metz said. “But suspicions and innuendo are categorically insufficient to support any criminal charges.”
After the announcement, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said it also had no credible evidence that would lead to federal criminal charges. A law enforcement official close to the investigation told The Associated Press that the federal investigation is now inactive unless new information emerges. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the federal case remains open.
Federal prosecutors and the Drug Enforcement Administration alleged Schulenberg, a family physician who saw Prince at least twice before he died, violated the Controlled Substances Act when he wrote a prescription for someone else’s name on April 14, 2016.
The settlement, dated Monday, does not name Prince or make any references to the Prince investigation. However, search warrants say Schulenberg told authorities he prescribed oxycodone for Prince under the name of his bodyguard and close friend, Kirk Johnson, “for Prince’s privacy.”
Schulenberg’s attorney, Amy Conners, has disputed that and did so again Thursday, saying that Schulenberg settled the case to avoid the expense and uncertain outcome of litigation.
Oxycodone, the generic name for the active ingredient in OxyContin, was not listed as a cause of Prince’s death. But it is part of a family of painkillers driving the nation’s addiction and overdose epidemic, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nearly 2 million Americans abused or were addicted to prescription opioids, including oxycodone, in 2014.
A laboratory report obtained by The Associated Press noted that one of the pills found in a prescription bottle in Paisley Park that bore Johnson’s name tested positive for oxycodone.
“Doctors are trusted medical professionals and, in the midst of our opioid crisis, they must be part of the solution,” U.S. Attorney Greg Brooker said in a statement Thursday.
The settlement noted that the agreement “is neither an admission of facts nor liability by Dr. Schulenberg.” And in a separate letter to Schulenberg’s attorneys, prosecutors said Schulenberg is not currently a target of any criminal investigation.
Under the settlement, Schulenberg also agreed to stricter requirements for logging and reporting his prescriptions of controlled substances for two years, and to give the DEA access to those records.
A confidential toxicology report obtained by the AP in March showed high concentrations of fentanyl in the singer’s blood, liver and stomach. The concentration of fentanyl in Prince’s blood alone was 67.8 micrograms per liter, which outside experts called “exceedingly high.”
Prince did not have a prescription for fentanyl. Search warrants unsealed about a year after he died showed that authorities searched his home, cellphone records of associates and his email accounts to try to determine how he got the drug. Authorities found numerous pills in various containers stashed around Prince’s home, including some counterfeit pills that contained fentanyl.
While many who knew Prince over the years said he had a reputation for clean living, some said he also struggled with pain after years of intense performing. Documents unsealed last year paint a picture of a man struggling with an addiction to prescription opioids and withdrawal symptoms. The papers also show there were efforts to get him help.
Just six days before he died, Prince passed out on a flight, and the private plane made an emergency stop in Moline, Illinois. The musician had to be revived with two doses of a drug that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose.
The day before his death, Paisley Park staffers contacted California addiction specialist Dr. Howard Kornfeld. The doctor sent his son, Andrew, to Minnesota that night, and the younger Kornfeld was among those who found Prince’s body. Andrew Kornfeld was carrying buprenorphine, a medication that can be used to help treat opioid addiction.
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