To recap: a plane in which the iconic performer was traveling had to make an emergency landing in Illinois on April 15, after which, it has been reported, he was treated and released from the emergency room. Less than a week later, he was found unconscious and unresponsive, with unnamed sources telling TMZ that he had previously overdosed on the painkiller Percocet. It has since been revealed that Prince had received treatment for a hip problem.
While there are many more questions than answers at this point, Pinsky says one thing is clear: “They don’t land planes for the flu.” The HLN personality goes on to explain that Prince’s respiratory distress, possibly the result of “the combination of oral opiates and Benzodiazepines, is extraordinarily dangerous” but that physicians prescribe or otherwise endorse the combo “all the time.” It “stops you from breathing and you die,” says Pinsky. “It’s easy for that to happen with that combination even as prescribed.”
The fact that Prince left the hospital in a hurry is also significant, adds Pinsky. “It means he left against medical advice. Now, we’re hearing that, too.”
On April 22, Carver County Sheriff Jim Olson announced to reporters that Prince’s death was officially ruled not a suicide.
Could Prince have been addicted to pain pills, as are millions of Americans in what has become an epidemic in the U.S.? Pinsky’s take is that “although opiates figure into this story, it doesn’t really sound like an addiction story. Even if it ends up being drugs that caused him to stop breathing, I would put it more in the accident category than the addiction category. But still, an otherwise healthy middle-aged man with hip pain should not be on opiates chronically. Period.”
Pinsky also notes that there could have been an “underlying chronic health issue” that we’re not aware of, be it cancer or heart disease or sarcoidosis. “We will have our answer in due time.”
With an autopsy completed, we’ll have some answers within weeks, but the problem of overprescribing opiates remains. Says Pinsky: “We’ve been through this 20-year window, where some 90 percent of the opiates prescribed in the world are prescribed in this country. [Doctors] are getting the message that there’s overprescribing, but they’re cutting patients off rather than calling them into their office and saying, “Look, we caused a problem here I didn’t expect, looks like it triggered a second disorder of addiction; let’s get you treated.” They just say, “You’re a bad patient and notify all the pharmacies, “We’re not going to prescribe for you any more.”
It’s exactly that confluence of events that has led to America’s heroin problem. “Once you lock someone out of opiates, what do you think is going to happen. They’ll go to the streets for a cheaper, better high. They’re drug addicts now.”
This article originally appeared in THR.com.