Today would have been Prince's 58th birthday, and so as we celebrate his life and musical contributions, I wonder how this tragedy could have been prevented, how we, as advocates for compassionate and health-based drug policies, can do better to educate people, end stigma around opioid use, prescription and otherwise, and prevent overdoses.
Like most, when I first heard the reports of Prince's death, I was in shock and disbelief. The purple iconoclast, performer, guitar god, activist, fashion provocateur and musical genius was the driving soundtrack of my youth, and a part of the fabric and landscape of all things culturally powerful, sexually explicit and unapologetically funky.
Amid longstanding speculation that Prince died of an overdose, last week, toxicology results confirmed that Prince tragically died from an accidental overdose of fentanyl. He is now one of nearly 19,000 Americans who die from opioid-based medication each year.
As more details emerge surrounding his final days and the help his people sought, his established use of opioid medication to treat chronic pain stemming from decades of demanding performances, Prince's death, one highest profile cases to date, serves as reminder that we need to do better to educate people on drug use, legal and otherwise, misuse and how to prevent and decrease the probabilities of having an overdose.
Here are some starting points:
- Don't combine opioids with other sedatives.
- Enact 911 Good Samaritan immunity laws at all jurisdictional levels to protect overdose witnesses from arrest and prosecution for minor drug law violations.
- Expand access to naloxone among people who use opioids, as well as their friends, family members, caretakers and doctors.
- Promote fact based drug education for young people about potentially dangerous drug combinations and how to prevent and respond to an overdose.
- Support public education initiatives to foster awareness of any overdose policy reforms and improve cooperation with ambulance and police services.
And finally, best said here, by my colleague Kevin Franciotti, "The harms associated with drug use, including fatal overdoses from opioids, need to acknowledge the role of stigma surrounding people who use them. Prince was known as an advocate for clean living, and if fear of being stigmatized as a drug addict was a contributing factor to his untimely death, just like it is for many others, serious consideration needs to include an end to the stigma around drug use."
And here's what we don't do: Prince's death should not lead to bad drug policies. What we should learn from this tragic event is that overdose is preventable and addiction is treatable. Let our compassion for one another and research grounded in science drive our drug policies. Otherwise punitive prohibition and stigma will continue to destroy lives.
In love and tribute, here's one of my favorite Prince moments.
Melissa Franqui is the communications coordinator for the Drug Policy Alliance.
This piece first appeared on the Drug Policy Alliance Blog: http://www.drugpolicy.org/blog/prince-gone-2-soon-