Did an Opioid Overdose Kill Prince?

As the world of music mourns the passing of Prince, the media’s attention has shifted to speculation around the true cause of the Purple Prince’s death.  Official channels from the pop singer’s side have cited complications due to the flu; TMZ tells a different story – one that implicates opioid-related overdose as a cause.  This is not a cliched story of superstar overuse for recreation.  Rather, the Percocet in Prince’s possession has been reported to have been prescribed to treat hip pain.

While the truth will be revealed with formal autopsy, the dangers of opioid-related adverse effects are not limited to overdoses on private jets.  There are real risks for real people.

The Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing recently issued a letter to The Joint Commission and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services requesting that they re-examine their pain management standards because these standards “encourage unnecessary, unhelpful and unsafe pain treatments that interfere with primary disease management.”

Prince - source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prince_(musician)
Prince – source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prince_(musician)

In response, David Baker, MD (Executive Vice President for Healthcare Quality Evaluation, The Joint Commission) recently wrote, “In the environment of today’s prescription opioid epidemic, everyone is looking for someone to blame.”

Dr. Baker then went on to point out 5 misconceptions about The Joint Commission’s pain management standards:

  1. The Joint Commission endorses pain as a vital sign
  2. The Joint Commission requires pain assessment for all patients.
  3. The Joint Commission requires that pain be treated until the pain score reaches zero.
  4. The Joint Commission standards push doctors to prescribe opioids.
  5. The Joint Commission pain standards caused a sharp rise in opioid prescriptions.

In all of this finger pointing, it should not be forgotten that opioids are both necessary and must be used with caution.

In “Opioids: What Do Healthcare Professionals Want and Need to Know?”, executives at National Patient Safety Foundation (NPSF) – Patricia McGaffigan, RN, MS (chief operating officer and senior vice president of programs), Caitlin Y. Lorincz, MS, MA (senior program director), and Tejal K. Gandhi, MD, MPH, CPPS (president and CEO) – recently wrote:

The availability of, and access to effective and safe treatments for pain remain serious problems in the United States (Institute of Medicine, 2011). Opioid medications are important for addressing short-term and chronic pain management. Given the benefits that they provide, usage of opioids has become widespread over the past decade. However, opioid medications also carry substantial risk, and their increased usage has introduced a host of unintended consequences across the care continuum.

So, right now while we may not know what might have led to Prince’s death – this will have to wait until an autopsy report – finding the right balance between appropriate opioid use and opioid overdose, misuse, and abuse should be encouraged.

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