In the days following the April 21 death of Prince, reports have surfaced that the music legend grappled with a dependence on painkillers. According to TMZ, less than a week before the singer’s death, his plane was forced to make an emergency landing due to an overdose of the opioid painkiller Percocet. And over the weekend, a person claiming to be Prince’s drug dealer told the Daily Mail that the singer had been hooked for more than 25 years, taking opioid painkillers such a Dilaudid and fentanyl.
If those reports turn out to be true, the “Little Red Corvette” musician was coping with a habit that’s incredibly difficult to break, and one that can frequently be fatal, addiction specialist John Tsilimparis, MFT (Marriage and Family Therapist), told TheWrap.
“These drugs are very hard to get off; opiate drugs come from heroin,” Tsilimparis said.
One big problem with medications such as Percocet, which is a combination of oxycodone and acetaminophen, Tsilimparis said, is not so much their pain-killing properties but their pleasure-giving abilities.
“It gives you a sense of euphoria. It gives you relaxation and a sense of calm. It gives you peace,” Tsilimparis said. “These are the types of drugs that elicit this dopamine response in certain areas of the brain, and it just floods you with good feelings.”
But along with those good feelings comes an appetite for more that extends beyond the mere desire to remove physical pain.
“If you’re having a tough day or if you’re going through a difficult time in your life — if you’re anxious, you’re depressed — and then you take something that doesn’t just dull the pain, but it gives you euphoria, that heightened pleasure” then they are likely to do it again, Tsilimparis explained.
That impulse can have a devastating impact — and Tsilimparis called the statistics on overdoses “staggering.”
“The CDC recently reported that 46 people per day die in the United States of prescription drug overdoses, about 17,000 per year,” he noted.
Compounding matters, Tsilimparis said, is that people “don’t always take these drugs as directed,” and often begin using them recreationally, layering them with other drugs. Tsilimparis pointed to former “Glee” star Cory Monteith, who died from a combination of alcohol and opiates, and Heath Ledger, who died from an overdose of painkillers and other drugs.
Tsilimparis added that there’s “no research” indicating that opiate drugs actually help chronic pain in the long run. Worse.users can be lured into a false sense of security because they’re legal drugs, even if they’re not always used per the doctor’s directions.
“It’s shrouded in, ‘Well, the doctor prescribed it, so if the doctor prescribed it, it’s got to be safe,” Tsilimparis offered.
Because of these dangers, Tsilimparis said, stricter regulations have been put in place, making it difficult for patients to “doctor shop” for greater supplies. That has left many addicts turning to the street for their supply.
“Someone like Prince, if he had been doing that, he doesn’t have to turn to the street,” Tsilimparis said. “When you have money, you have access.”