It’s been fifteen days since Prince Rogers Nelson died.
Although an official cause of death has yet to be released, reports came out Thursday alleging the painkiller Percocet was found in the pop star’s system during his autopsy.
Prince was found unresponsive in his Paisley Park compound on April 21 and was pronounced dead shortly after. The person who found Prince, pre-med student Andrew Kornfeld, visited Paisley Park to check on the singer in preparation for a drug rehabilitation program.
Investigators confirm Kornfeld had a bottle of buprenorphine when he found Prince unconscious, and it’s believed that that medication was intended for the singer. Buprenorphine is a drug used to treat opioid addiction.
And in the wake of his death, Prince’s alleged addiction to painkillers points to a much larger problem — alarming prescription drug abuse rates in the U.S.
During Friday’s edition on NewsOne Now, Jerrold Winter, Ph.D, Professor of Pharmacology and Therapeutics at the University of New York at Buffalo spoke with Roland Martin about pain management, opioid dependence and the true meaning of addition.
“Most of what has been said about Prince’s death is speculation until we know what was in his system when the toxicology report comes out.” Winter said. “Everything seems to point to the fact that he had suffered from chronic pain over the years and most likely he had been treated with opioid.”
“My concern is that the term addiction keeps getting used and what it fails to do is to differentiate between physical dependence which is a fundamental pharmacological phenomenon,” said Dr. Winter.
He explained anyone exposed to an opioid for a “sufficient period of time and a sufficient dose will become physically dependent” to it.
“That means our brains have put in a into play some adaptive measures, which we’re totally unaware of when it’s happening. If we abruptly stop the drug, we will go into a withdrawal syndrome.”
Later during their conversation Dr. Winter began to dissect the true nature of addiction calling it “a very complex phenomenon.”
“Unlike physical dependence which is straight forward pharmacology, addiction has it’s roots in a lot of things — homelessness, joblessness, the a lack of love or hope in your life, adolescent thrill seeking and so forth.” He added a component of addiction may be physical dependence.
Dr. Winter referred to Sigmund Freud’s theory of human’s needed of “love and work” where the lack of each can cause to someone to become addicted to a substance.
“If you look at Appalachia where you’ve got unemployment, if you look at the midwest where you’ve got jobs that have been lost from the manufacturing industry you have a great rise not only in opioid addiction — true addiction, but also things like methamphetamines,” said Winter.
Earlier during the NewsOne Now segment Dr. Winter expressed concern that people being legitimately treated for pain are being “treated until the point of physical dependence.” He added, now that there is focus on addiction, those who need opioids “will be unable to obtain the medication that allows them to function normally and may be forced into the illicit market.”
“Now you’ve shifted somebody from a prescription drug to heroin or even fentanyl which is an even more dangerous drug.”
“Don’t call Prince an addict, call him a man in pain who needed help,” Winter added.
Watch Roland Martin, Dr. Jerrold Winter and the NewsOne Now panel discuss opioid dependence in the video clip above.
Subscribe to the “NewsOne Now” Audio Podcast on iTunes.