Once again, amid rampant reports of drug abuse, our community mourns the loss of a true genius and icon known by the world on a first name basis - Michael, Whitney and now Prince.
While there is much we still do not know, and frankly can never know definitively about Prince’s death, in the two weeks since, a variety of sources – a man claiming to be a former drug dealer, a former family members attorney, medical professionals and an addiction doctor’s attorney - have been quoted in numerous stories pointing to opioid addiction as a factor. The autopsy results have yet to be released.
If reports that Prince received naloxone (brand name Narcan) during an emergency medical landing just 6 days before his death are true, this in and of itself is telling. This is a medication used for one purpose: to reverse the effects of opioid overdose.
If opioid addiction contributed to Prince’s death, the tragedy of the loss is made even more acute by the fact that drug addiction is a treatable condition. Opiate addiction in particular, has highly effective FDA-approved medication options in addition to psychosocial interventions.
It is an undeniable truth that treatment is not always readily accessible. One in five blacks do not have health insurance, and insurance is no guarantee that a suitable treatment facility or program accepting one’s coverage is available. For most, the alternative of paying cash or out of pocket is prohibitively expensive. For Prince, though, who left behind a fortune in excess of 300 million dollars, money and the access to treatment that it affords most certainly were there.
As a member of our community and a mental health professional, I can’t help but to wonder if stigma killed Prince.
Growing up in the conservative south, I saw the impact of drug addiction and heard it discussed as a moral failing. I saw people whose individual potential was never realized; whose inability to fulfill their role obligations in their families had generational consequences; whose erratic behavior deeply hurt their loved ones; whose mothers, sisters and brothers wept at their funerals. I’d seen the fall-out of drug addiction around me for almost as long as I could remember, but it was not until I was a 1st year medical student at the University of Florida 12 years ago, that I ever conceptualized addiction as a treatable medical condition.
The stories of people with drug addiction do not have to end with death or imprisonment. Whether or not the autopsy results reveal that opioids contributed to Prince’s death, this is an area that merits our collective attention and effort. According to the CDC, Opioids killed more than 28,000 people in 2014, more than any year on record.
So, what now?
- Flush them. If no longer needed, get rid of prescription medications that have a risk for harm to others, including the risk of addiction and abuse. The FDA has a list of medications, which include opioids, that they recommend flushing. http://www.fda.gov/downloads/Drugs/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/BuyingUsingMedicineSafely/EnsuringSafeUseofMedicine/SafeDisposalofMedicines/UCM337803.pdf
- Be informed. The Centers for Disease Control has a wealth of information about the opioid overdose epidemic. This information will better equip you to be an advocate in your family, communities and state to prevent opioid overdose deaths. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/health_policy/AADR_drug_poisoning_involving_OA_Heroin_US_2000- 2014.pdf.
- Recognize and refer. Know the signs and symptoms of addiction. The American Society of Addiction Medicine has a great resource page on this issue http://www.asam.org/quality-practice/definition-of-addiction. If treatment is needed for yourself or a loved one, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has a treatment finding tool available at https://findtreatment.samhsa.gov/TreatmentLocator/faces/quickSearch.jspx
- Dr. Sarah Y. Vinson, OurselvesBlack Founder, www.DrSarahVinson.com