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Fentanyl: All About the Drug That Killed Prince

Prince’s cause of death was revealed to be a fentanyl toxicity, according to a medical examiner’s report released on Thursday, June 2. The music legend was found dead at age 57 in an elevator in his Paisley Park estate in Chanhassen, Minnesota, on April 21. 

Related: PHOTOS: Prince Remembered: 15 of His Most Iconic Fashion Moments

The autopsy gave no additional details surrounding his death, and it’s unclear if Prince was prescribed the drug (he was known to suffer from a hip problem) or if it was illegally obtained elsewhere.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid, and it’s currently the strongest opioid approved for medical use in the United States. Usually, it’s reserved for unbearable pain experienced by people suffering from advanced-stage cancer or to manage pain after surgery, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Related: PHOTOS: Prince’s Life in Pictures

Prince performs at the Hop Farm Festival at the Hop Farm on July 3, 2011, in Paddock Wood, England.

Some experts say it’s unlikely that the “Purple Rain” singer had a prescription for the painkiller. Burt Kahn, a lawyer who specializes in medical negligence, told Reuters, “Fentanyl is a drug that would almost never be prescribed to a patient like Prince who doesn’t have terminal cancer, because the potential for overdose is extremely high.”

The estimated lethal dose of fentanyl is 2 milligrams, according to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction. This amount is incredibly small — a standard aspirin has 325 milligrams.

Related: PHOTOS: Celebrity Deaths in 2016: Stars We’ve Lost

The painkiller was first created in Belgium during the 1950s as an alternative to morphine, but it’s also estimated to be 80 times more potent than morphine and hundreds of times more potent than heroin, according to the CDC. It can be administered through an IV or ingested, among several other methods, and its effects are almost immediate.

Fentanyl came under scrutiny back in October 2002 during the Moscow Theater hostage crisis. Russian military reportedly tried to use fentanyl gas against terrorists holding 900 hostages, but 127 of the hostages died from the toxicity of the gas as well.

Prince’s death is now bringing massive attention to the dangerous drug. Other stars, including wrestler Anthony Durante and Slipknot bassist Paul Gray, have also passed away from a fentanyl overdose. 

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