I was shocked when I heard that Prince died of a fentanyl overdose. I don’t suppose I should have been, but I was. Prince had a well-documented history of Percocet use, and probably abuse. I don’t know how well known his drug use was outside his circle, I wasn’t aware of it, but certainly those close to him were. In the days preceding his death, the plane he was travelling in had to make an emergency landing to treat him for an overdose. The day before his death an addiction specialist was asked to come see him. Obviously someone was trying to get him help. Was he a part of that? Did he want help? I wonder. He died alone. He died from an overdose of one of the most powerful and dangerous narcotics around…fentanyl. Fentanyl use has skyrocketed lately. We are hearing about it more and more. Deaths from fentanyl in Wisconsin have risen dramatically. In 2010, 15 people died from fentanyl overdoses, in 2015 that number rose to 30. This year we are already at 32 and not even half the year has passed. Most people don’t start their addiction using fentanyl. Just like most heroin addicts don’t start with heroin. Most start with something simpler, maybe a prescription for Vicodin for a back injury, marijuana for fun. However it starts, once a person tries fentanyl, most are hooked. The addictive drug is so very difficult to stop. The vast majority can’t do it on their own. Most will need some major intervention to give them the courage to try and stop using. Many never do. They use until the drug takes them, kills them.
I suppose I sound a bit dramatic. Not everybody who uses fentanyl becomes addicted. It is a very effective pain medication, an opioid (opioids are synthetic-oxycodone, Vicodin/opiates are derived from the opium poppy plant, natural-morphine, codeine), a narcotic. Those in extreme pain get relief from this powerful drug. It is 50-100 times more powerful than morphine. It is measured in micrograms rather than milligrams. It can be extremely important to those who struggle with unrelenting severe pain, those with cancer, those in the hospital with critical injuries or post-surgical procedures. Those are the people this drug was meant to help. And it does. In controlled environments it is an effective pain management tool. I, personally, do not think it should be used unless it is closely monitored. With its addictive properties, patients who use fentanyl need to be followed closely for signs of addiction. There needs to be open and honest communication about the potential for dependence and misuse.
I read that Prince had severe hip pain for which he was prescribed narcotics. I read that he had a propensity for Percocet. What is Percocet? Percocet contains a combination of acetaminophen and oxycodone. Oxycodone is an opioid pain medication. You have all probably heard of Oxy, oxycodone, OxyContin. Another highly addictive narcotic. If Prince was taking this for a while, he would have become tolerant of the drug. You may also know that narcotics, the more they are used, lose their effectiveness requiring the user to increase their dose to get the same pain relief. Taken for extended periods of time also render the user addicted. They may not be using it for anything other than pain control, but their body will need the drug after a time. They will not be able to stop taking it with risk of withdrawal symptoms, some severe. Sometimes the user will look for something stronger since they are losing the effectiveness in their current medication regime. That is where drugs like fentanyl and heroin can come into the picture. Fentanyl can be obtained legally of course, but if given without close supervision, especially to someone otherwise addicted, it is an extremely high risk situation. If unable to get enough of the narcotic they have become addicted to, if unable to get it in the increasing quantities they require, the user will need to look elsewhere. They will either begin the drug seeking behavior seen in so many (physician shopping for example) or they will seek out drugs sold by those other than pharmacists. Fentanyl is now found on the street, heroin is being laced with it, it is being made into pill form from who knows what. It is just as bad as heroin. It is heroin, heroin made synthetically. Its properties are related, it effects the body the same. It is just as strong and it I just as deadly.
I do know what it is like to struggle with a fentanyl addiction. That was my drug of choice in my using days. I would have given my left leg to get it. I used other drugs before that, all pharmaceutical grade. I started by getting them from my doctor for faked back pain, but I eventually obtained them illegally, either by calling in prescriptions for myself or stealing them from the hospital where I worked. But none of them held the same craving that fentanyl did. I remember distinctly the first time I used it, I had to have more. It wasn’t that I wanted more…I needed more. I could not get it out of my mind and I could not resist it. After that first time, I stole it every time I went to work. I went from an occasional user to an addict. I would not stop. I could not have. I wanted to, I so badly wanted to, but I could not. I sought help, but then refused it. I could not stop using it until I was arrested and put in jail for 4 months. I had to be completely removed from any ability to get it, forced, before my mind could clear and I could see a better way. I have been clean since then. I no longer crave it, but I also work a 12 step program every day. I do not work with the drug anymore, I do not trust it, or me. I have a respectful fear of it. It nearly ruined me. I am one of the lucky ones, I have been able to stay away from it for 11 years now. I consider myself very lucky. Had I had the money and power like Prince, I know I would have suffered the same outcome. With nobody to stop me, I would have killed myself, the drug is that powerful. It should not be able to do that to people. I know I shouldn’t have taken it, that was all me and although I deeply regret it, I would like to spare others the same fate. Stay away from that drug, it is a killer.