A Friday afternoon press conference on the sudden death of Prince on Thursday left many questions about the iconic singer songwriter’s final moments, leaving the world to wonder whether opioids spelled the end of the legend’s life.
“In life he was a very private person,” Carver County Sheriff Jim Olson told reporters. “We are going to continue to respect his privacy and dignity in hopes that you do as well.” Olson declined to comment on whether anything was taken from Prince’s Minnesota home, but told reporters there was “no reason to believe at this point that this was a suicide.”
The 57-year-old was pronounced dead Thursday morning, sparking an outpouring of sadness as fans and loved ones searched for answers.
Olson said that Prince was last seen at 8 p.m. Wednesday at his residence. Carver County Police responded to a call at 9:43 a.m. the next morning, finding an unresponsive Prince in the elevator of his Paisley Park estate. After CPR failed, officials pronounced him dead at 10:07 a.m.
A few hours later, the sheriff’s office released a statement saying they were “continuing to investigate the circumstances surrounding his death,” but had no further details. Olson said that when police arrived on the scene, Prince appeared to have collapsed in the elevator. No one else was present and there were no signs of trauma. No emergency calls regarding Prince had been received within the past year.
Martha Weaver, speaking on behalf of the Midwest Medical Examiner’s Office, said her team received the call at 10:12 a.m. from the Carver County Police. MME’s chief medical examiner arrived on the scene at 11:30 a.m. The office began an autopsy on Prince at 9 a.m. Friday, lasting four hours. The body was returned to the family that afternoon.
“It was a meticulous exam, a complete exam, and several of the pieces of information will be sent to labs for further testing,” said Weaver. The results, which Weaver said will take weeks, will include his entire medical history.
Immediately after Prince’s death, rumors began swirling about the cause.
Thursday afternoon, TMZ released a report claiming that authorities had been forced to make an emergency landing last Friday while flying Prince home from a concert. The singer—who was reportedly battling the flu—was then “rushed to a hospital.” Only 48 minutes from his home, doubts began to circulate as to whether a cold was reason enough for a sudden landing.
The next morning, TMZ released another report saying that the reason for the landing was because Prince had “OD’d on Percocet” and “ingested so much” that EMTs were forced to dispense a “save shot.”
The “save shot” in reference is naloxone, sold under the brand name Narcan. The medication is an opioid-antidote with the power to reverse the effects of an overdose.
Olson said that all officers in Carver County carry Narcan and that it was “not used” in Prince’s case.
With the results of the toxicology report weeks away, there’s no way to know if opioids stole Prince’s life in the end. If they did, he’d be far from the first.
America’s opioid epidemic, which includes heroin, morphine, and prescription painkillers, has reached never-before-seen levels. Data from the National Institute of Health estimates that anywhere between 26.4 million and 36 million people abuse some form of opioids nationwide. It’s a problem that has turned deadly, quadrupling the rate of unintentional overdose deaths since 1999.
According to the 2015 National Drug Threat Assessment (NDTA), 46,000 people died from opioid-related incidents in 2013 alone—a statistic that makes it the third-leading cause of injury-related death in America. One year earlier, a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that painkiller overdoses kill 46 Americans per day, or nearly two an hour.
Throughout the press conference, Sheriff Olson repeatedly commended Prince as a great member of the community. “We would see Prince from a law enforcement standpoint for concerts,” Olson said. “He had been a longtime member of the community and really a good neighbor for everybody.”
“For our generation, he was the songbook and the narrative for some of the greatest moments in our individual lives, much like Elvis and Ira Gershwin,” Weaver added. “We appreciate the respect and the outpouring of support that everyone has shown—not only to his family, but to the state of Minnesota that so proudly claimed him and adored him.”