Prince’s Death: an Alarming Reminder of a Rapidly Growing Opioid Epidemic & What You Need to Know

By Nick Lasky for Ellwood Thompon’s Food Advocates

By now you are likely aware that there is a terrible epidemic piercing through the United States: opioid addiction. Opioids are a class of drugs used to reduce pain and some of the most common forms are heroin and prescriptions painkillers like morphine and oxycodone.

Given the current statistics on addiction, the odds are you either know someone who is addicted, knew someone that overdosed or you know a friend who knows someone that is addicted or overdosed. That’s an epidemic.

This epidemic is killing many young people, and recently, it killed one of the world’s top music icons, Prince. Prince died of an overdose of the prescription painkiller known as fentanyl, a type of synthetic opiate. Unfortunately, Prince’s death serves as a stark reminder of a problem that is snowballing and causing more and more deaths every year that passes.


OverdoseHere is a reality check:

– Since 1999, overdose deaths from prescription opioids have QUADRUPLED.

– Heroin-related overdose deaths have more than TRIPLED since 2010.

– Every day 78 Americans die from an opioid overdose.

What is going on?

One of the main driving factors in these shocking trends is likely the large increase in the prescribing of opioid painkillers. According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, “since 1999, the amount of prescription opioids sold in the U.S. nearly quadrupled, yet there has not been an overall change in the amount of pain that Americans report”.

When you look at the fact that BOTH the amount of prescription opioids sold and the number of prescription opioid-related overdose deaths have quadrupled since 1999, then you begin to see a pattern.

What is very alarming is the addictive power of these painkillers. Fentanyl, for instance, a drug typically reserved for terminal cancer patients, is 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine according to the CDC. It’s unclear how Prince got his fentanyl, but recently there has been an outbreak of illegally made fentanyl, which has caused a surge in the number of fentanyl-related overdose deaths.

Once a person is  get hooked on opioids it can be very difficult to get off of them. In 2014, nearly two million people in the United States were abusing or dependent on opioid prescription painkillers.

The statistics speak for themselves. This is a very serious problem that we as a society can no longer ignore. Education and becoming aware of the different resources available can make a big difference even if it means you are somehow able to help just one person.


  • The most commonly overdosed opioids are Methadone, Oxycodone (such as OxyContin), and Hydrocodone (such as Vicodin).
  • DO NOT consume alcohol or other drugs if you are taking opioids unless your doctor says otherwise. Mixing other substances with opioids can have a seriously detrimental impact on your health and especially your liver.
  • Follow your doctor’s instructions exactly while taking pain medications. If you are aware of a family member or friend who is prescribed pain medication and you know they are abusing their medication, call their doctor and start a conversation.
  • 10 Common Warning Signs of Prescription Painkiller Dependency 
    1. Usage increase
    2. Change in personality
    3. Social Withdrawal
    4. Ongoing Use (after condition has improved)
    5. Large amount of time spent obtaining prescriptions
    6. Change in daily habits & appearance
    7. Neglecting responsibilities
    8. Increased sensitivity
    9. Blackouts & forgetfulness
    10. Defensiveness
  • YOU ARE NOT ALONE  if you are seeking help for yourself, a friend or family member. Check out the resources below to see where you can get started.


The Stop Overdose website, developed by the University of Washington’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute, offers education, training, and answers to frequently asked questions about preventing and reversing overdoses and getting the opiate overdose antidote naloxone (Narcan).

SAMHSA (Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration)

1-800-662-HELP (4357)
TTY: 1-800-487-4889

NCADD (National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence)


There are several different resource options on the website including finding a local affiliate and taking a self test to see if you are addicted)


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