ME: Prince died of accidental fentanyl overdose

Prince was 57

Prince performs during the halftime show at Super Bowl XLI at Dolphin Stadium in Miami, Sunday, Feb. 4, 2007. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Prince performs during the halftime show at Super Bowl XLI at Dolphin Stadium in Miami, Sunday, Feb. 4, 2007. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Prince died of an accidental overdose of fentanyl, a powerful opioid painkiller that is up to 50 times more potent than heroin, autopsy results released Thursday show.

The findings confirm suspicions that opioids played a role in the death of the superstar musician, who was found dead April 21 at his Minneapolis-area estate.

After he died, authorities began reviewing whether an overdose was to blame and whether he had been prescribed drugs in the preceding weeks.

According to a one-page report released by the Midwest Medical Examiner’s Office, Prince administered the drug himself, but the date he took it was unknown. The office said it has completed its death investigation and had no further comment.

Fentanyl is a synthetic drug that is partly responsible for a recent surge in overdose deaths in some parts of the country. Because of its risks, it is tightly controlled by the Food and Drug Administration.

Pain patients who have built up a tolerance to other prescription painkillers, or who have become addicted, sometimes seek out stronger drugs such as heroin or fentanyl.

More than 700 fentanyl-related overdoses were reported to the Drug Enforcement Administration in late 2013 and 2014. The drug also has legitimate medical uses.

Prince, 57, died less than a week after his plane made an emergency stop in Moline, Illinois, for medical treatment as he was returning from an Atlanta concert. The Associated Press and other media reported, based on anonymous sources, that the superstar was found unconscious on the plane, and first responders gave him a shot of Narcan, an antidote used in suspected opioid overdoses.

The autopsy was conducted the day after Prince’s body was found.

At least two doctors’ names have come up in the death investigation being conducted by the Carver County Sheriff’s Office, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Minnesota and the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Dr. Michael Todd Schulenberg, a family practitioner, treated Prince twice in the weeks before his death and told investigators he prescribed medications for the singer. The medications were not specified in a search warrant for the Minnesota hospital that employed Schulenberg at the time.

Schulenberg saw Prince April 7 and April 20 — the day before his death — according to the warrant. Schulenberg’s attorney has declined to comment on the case.

FILE - In this Feb. 1, 2007 file photo, Prince plays his guitar during a press conference at the Miami Beach Convention Center in Miami Beach, Fla. Prince's publicist has confirmed that Prince died at his home in Minnesota, Thursday, April 21, 2016. He was 57. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)
FILE – In this Feb. 1, 2007 file photo, Prince plays his guitar during a press conference at the Miami Beach Convention Center in Miami Beach, Fla. Prince’s publicist has confirmed that Prince died at his home in Minnesota, Thursday, April 21, 2016. He was 57. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)

Dr. Howard Kornfeld, a California addiction specialist, was asked by Prince’s representatives on April 20 to help the singer.

Kornfeld sent his son Andrew on a redeye flight that night, and Andrew was among the people who found Prince’s unresponsive body the next morning, according to Kornfeld’s attorney, William Mauzy.

The younger Kornfeld, who is not a doctor, was carrying buprenorphine, a medication that can be used to treat opioid addiction by easing cravings and withdrawal symptoms, Mauzy said, explaining that Andrew Kornfeld intended to give the medication to a Minnesota doctor who had cleared his schedule to see Prince on April 21.

Mauzy has refused to identify that doctor. Schulenberg is not authorized to prescribe buprenorphine.

Prince’s death came two weeks after he canceled concerts in Atlanta, saying he wasn’t feeling well. He played a pair of makeup shows April 14 in that city, and then came the emergency landing in Moline. He was scheduled to perform two shows in St. Louis but canceled them shortly before his death.

The superstar had a reputation for clean living, and some friends said they never saw any sign of drug use. But longtime friend and collaborator Sheila E. has told the AP that Prince had physical issues from performing, citing hip and knee problems that she said came from years of jumping off risers and stage speakers in heels.

Key players

Since Prince’s sudden death at age 57 on April 21, a host of figures have emerged as key players in the investigation of how he died and in the ultimate division of his estate, which is worth millions. A brief look at those figures:


A northern California doctor who specializes in addiction treatment and pain management, Howard Kornfeld has championed the use of buprenorphine, a drug similar to methadone that often is used to treat opiate addiction. His attorney says Prince’s representatives reached out to Kornfeld on April 20, the day before Prince was found dead in his studio compound in suburban Minneapolis. Unable to immediately fly to Minnesota, Kornfeld sent his son Andrew in an effort to convince the musician to seek long-term care at his Recovery Without Walls center in Mill City, California. William Mauzy, the Kornfelds’ attorney, said Howard Kornfeld sent with his son a small dose of buprenorphine, which is used to ease withdrawal symptoms and cravings.


The younger Kornfeld, a 26-year-old pre-med student, was one of the three people who found Prince at his Paisley Park studio on April 21. Sent on behalf of his father, Andrew Kornfeld was carrying a small dose of the drug buprenorphine. Advocates of the drug say the opiate can help addicted patients by offering pain relief with reduced possibility of overdose and addiction. Andrew Kornfeld is listed as a consultant with his father’s clinic and is a pre-med student, according to his attorney William Mauzy. Mauzy said the mission Andrew Kornfeld was sent on was consistent with the work he has done for his father’s clinic for years.


In the weeks before Prince’s April 21 death, the musician met twice with Dr. Michael Todd Schulenberg, a 46-year-old family care physician who worked at a Minnetonka clinic a few miles from Prince’s Paisley Park studio and home, according to search warrant documents. Schulenberg is no longer working for the health care system connected to the clinic, but the health care system won’t say why and his attorney declined to comment. Investigators interviewed Schulenberg the day Prince died and searched the health care system’s flagship hospital for Prince’s medical records. The warrant documents say Schulenberg prescribed Prince medications in recent weeks, but what they were and whether Prince took them is unknown.


A longtime friend of Prince, Kirk Johnson was a drummer and the estate manager at Paisley Park. Johnson, 51, has issued only a brief statement since Prince’s death, saying he was heartbroken and asking for privacy. According to search warrant documents, investigators interviewed Johnson sometime after Prince’s death. He told them that Prince had gone to a local medical center for an illness in 2014 or 2015. The Star Tribune, citing a source with knowledge of the investigation, reported that Schulenberg was Johnson’s doctor and that Johnson recommended him to Prince.


Tyka Nelson, 55, is Prince’s only full sibling, and she has taken the lead in the initial work to settle her older brother’s estate. Both are children of John L. Nelson and Mattie Della Shaw, who divorced when Prince and Tyka were young and who later died. Tyka Nelson lives in a north Minneapolis home and has shied away from the press, but she appeared in court with four of Prince’s five half siblings in early May for the first hearing to start sorting out Prince’s estate. Nelson said Prince left no known will. Under Minnesota law, those siblings would share Prince’s estate equally unless a will emerges or an unknown child of Prince comes forward and is confirmed through paternity tests.


Given the current value of Prince’s estate and its vast earning potential even after his death, claims have been rolling in. A Colorado inmate, Carlin Q. Williams of Kansas City, Missouri, has claimed to be Prince’s biological son. Another Kansas City resident, Darcell Gresham Johnston, has claimed to be a half-sister. A district judge has set up a process to handle paternity claims with DNA testing. Meanwhile, the work of settling Prince’s estate is being carried out behind closed doors by lawyers who aren’t discussing it. Bremer Trust, which was named special administrator of Prince’s estate last month, will tally the assets Prince left behind – financial accounts, real estate, recording catalog and the unreleased recordings in his vault at Paisley Park. Trust workers will also tackle the complicated job of trying to assign a value to them. The next hearing in the case June 27 will take up any objections to a special administrator’s plan for screening claims of heirship.


The Carver County Sheriff’s Department is the local agency responsible for investigating Prince’s sudden, unwitnessed death. The U.S. Attorney’s Office and Drug Enforcement Administration have also said they would be assisting. The day after Prince was found dead, Sheriff Jim Olson said investigators would “leave no stone unturned” while looking for answers. Authorities returned to Paisley Park on May 10, 2½ weeks after first searching the property the day of Prince’s death, but declined to say why.


Dr. A. Quinn Strobl, the chief medical examiner at the Midwest Medical Examiner’s Office since late 2009, performed the autopsy on Prince. Her office is the official coroner for 19 counties in Minnesota, including Carver County, where he was found dead. Strobl has been a practicing forensic pathologist since she finished her fellowship in 2005 and is board-certified in anatomic, clinical and forensic pathology. In a 2009 interview with the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Strobl spoke about how she works with families. “Hopefully, I deliver answers,” she said.


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