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Prosecutors will not file charges in overdose death of musician Prince

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Prince performs Dec. 8, 1997, in the Fargodome in Fargo. Forum News Service file photo2 / 3
Carver County Attorney Mark Metz announces there will be no criminal charges filed in the death of Prince Rogers Nelson at a press conference on April 19, 2018, in Chaska, Minn. To Metz's right are Carver County Sheriff Jim Olson (right) and Chief Deputy Jason Kamerud. Prince died from a fentanyl overdose, but Metz said there is not enough evidence to determine the origin of the drug. Robb Jeffries / Forum News Service3 / 3

CHANHASSEN, Minn. — Citing a lack of evidence, prosecutors will not be filing criminal charges in the 2016 opioid overdose of pop icon Prince.

Prince, born Prince Rogers Nelson, was 57 when he was found unresponsive in his Paisley Park estate in Chanhassen on April 21, 2016. An autopsy showed he died from an overdose of fentanyl, a synthetic drug that has caused several deaths across the Upper Midwest in the past few years.

Carver County Attorney Mark Metz told the media Thursday, April 19, that while evidence shows Prince had developed a dependency on painkillers, there was no definitive evidence as to how the musician obtained the counterfeit narcotic pills laced with fentanyl that killed him.

Metz did say pills prescribed to Prince by Dr. Michael Schulenberg were not to blame in Prince’s death, but Schulenberg reached a $30,000 settlement with federal prosecutors for prescribing medication for Prince to Prince’s assistant, Kirk Johnson.

In all, Metz said nobody associated with Prince — including Schulenberg, Johnson and the pop star himself — likely knew Prince was taking tainted medication.

“In all likelihood, Prince had no idea he was taking a counterfeit that could kill him,” Metz said.

Prescribed medication

According to investigators, Schulenberg treated Prince for nausea and fatigue on April 7, 2016, at North Memorial Clinic in Minnetonka. He gave Prince intravenous fluids, then wrote out prescriptions for vitamin D and anti-nausea pills. Prince requested the prescriptions be written out to Johnson to protect his privacy, and Schulenberg obliged.

Later that week, Johnson contacted Schulenberg to request painkillers for Prince ahead of an April 14 concert performance in Atlanta. Prince had been experiencing back pain from years of performances, Johnson said. Schulenberg prescribed 15 Percocet pills, a narcotic used for pain management.

Metz said investigators were confident none of the medications prescribed by Schulenberg had caused Prince’s death.

When Prince collapsed on the return flight home that made an emergency stop in Moline, Ill., first responders revived Prince with anti-narcotic treatment Naloxone, often known by its brand name, Narcan. Johnson told medical personnel Prince may have taken Percocet.

But Metz said, while no lab testing was done in Moline, it was likely a counterfeit pill laced with fentanyl that had caused Prince to collapse.

“There is no evidence the pills that killed Prince were prescribed by a doctor. …Others around him also likely didn’t know the pills were counterfeit and contained fentanyl,” Metz said.

After returning to Minnesota, Prince had began to show symptoms of withdrawal from narcotics. Metz said Johnson contacted Schulenberg, who once again treated Prince with fluids, and drew blood for lab testing.

When Metz arrived at Paisley Park to deliver the results of the testing on April 21, emergency crews were already on site.

Law enforcement officials found dozens of pills in Paisley Park, many of which were not in prescribed bottles provided by pharmacies and none prescribed to Prince.

Metz said Johnson and Schulenberg had reached out to a California treatment facility prior to Prince’s death to help Prince fight his addiction.

“We are in the middle of an unprecedented and horrific epidemic of opioid overdoses in this country,” Metz said. “Prince’s death is a tragic example of how opioid addiction and overdose deaths do not discriminate, no matter the demographic.”

Robb Jeffries

Robb Jeffries is a news coordinator for Forum News Service. He is a graduate of the University of North Dakota and previously served as a reporter and copy editor for the Grand Forks Herald. Reach him at rjeffries@forumcomm.com and follow him on Twitter at @robbjeffries.

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