Drug Rehab

Counterfeit Pills with Fentanyl Likely Killed Prince

Authorities discovered pills that were labeled as hydrocodone but actually contained fentanyl at Prince’s home in Chanhassen, Minnesota, according to a knowledgeable source cited by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Prince died from a fentanyl overdose April 21, and the Midwest Medical Examiner’s Office announced the cause of death June 2. Law enforcement delayed the announcement because of an investigation into how the singer obtained the pills.

In the days after his death, media speculated that Prince was addicted to opioids, which led to an accidental overdose. Now, officials believe Prince may not have realized what was in the pills that caused his death. Authorities are continuing to investigate, according to the Star-Tribune.

Fentanyl is about 100 times more potent than hydrocodone, which is similar to the potency of morphine. The singer’s body contained much more than the lethal dose of fentanyl, an amount that “would have killed anyone,” according to the Star-Tribune.

In addition to fentanyl, the Star-Tribune reported that Prince had lidocaine, alprazolam and Percocet in his system when he died. Lidocaine is a numbing agent, alprazolam is the active ingredient in the anti-anxiety medication Xanax and Percocet is a painkiller that contains oxycodone.

A conflicting Associated Press report claimed Prince tested positive for diazepam, the active ingredient in Valium, not alprazolam.

Prince had reportedly overdosed on Percocet six days before his death, but he was given the opioid-reversal drug naloxone after the plane he was on made an emergency landing. He was rushed to a nearby hospital, but he checked out against medical advice and flew home to Minnesota, according to media reports.

Friends and family close to Prince were in talks with a California addiction specialist on the day before his death. The singer’s associates were reportedly trying to get him into a residential rehab facility because they feared for his life.

Law Enforcement Collected, Analyzed Numerous Pills at Prince’s Residence

Law enforcement found a plethora of pills at Prince’s home, according to The Associated Press. About 60 pills found in an aspirin container contained fentanyl, lidocaine and U-47700, an opioid that is approximately eight times the potency of morphine.

Authorities also discovered mislabeled drugs containing either oxycodone or codeine. A prescription bottle containing 10 oxycodone pills was labeled with someone else’s name, but authorities have not revealed the name.

The hydrocodone pill that tested positive for fentanyl was labeled Watson 385. It also tested positive for lidocaine and an additional unconfirmed drug.

Watson 385 is a label commonly found on generic Lortab pills produced by Watson Pharmaceuticals. Lortab is the brand name for a drug that contains a combination of hydrocodone and acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol.

Counterfeit Pills Spreading Across the United States

In a July report, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration announced hundreds of thousands of counterfeit pills containing fentanyl and related compounds had entered the United States.

Chinese labs are producing the drugs and selling them to drug trafficking organizations across North America. From August 2013 through 2015, American law enforcement agencies intercepted 239 kilograms of illicit fentanyl. In 2013 and 2014, more than 700 people died from fentanyl-related overdoses, according to the DEA.

The counterfeit pills are nearly identical in appearance to the drugs they’re designed to resemble. The only way to tell the difference is through laboratory tests.

The United States has experienced one previous fentanyl crisis. In 2006, the DEA’s National Forensic Laboratory Information System tested 1,594 fentanyl exhibits. When a Mexican lab producing the fentanyl was shut down, the number of fentanyl exhibits plummeted.

Between 2008 and 2012, NFLIS tested between 525 and 644 fentanyl exhibits each year.

Since the latest fentanyl crisis began, the number of fentanyl exhibits identified by the NFLIS increased to:

  • 934 in 2013
  • 7,864 in 2014
  • 13,002 in 2015

Fentanyl trafficking is an extremely profitable business for drug dealers who have little concern about the people consuming the drugs. The DEA warned that more drug trafficking organizations will begin replicating the same model of producing counterfeit drugs, and the number of counterfeit drugs containing potentially deadly chemicals on the street will continue to grow.

Individuals who buy drugs they believe contain painkillers designed to treat mild or moderate pain — such as Vicodin, Lortab, Percocet or Roxicodone — may actually be buying deadly drugs containing fentanyl.