Musical genius Prince died April 21 at the age of 57. Subscribe now for an inside look into his private life and shocking death, only in PEOPLE.
In this week’s cover story, sources confirm to PEOPLE that Prince had a history of using the prescription painkiller Percocet to treat ongoing pain. While powerful opiates such as this can help manage pain, they can also can be addictive and deadly, says an addiction expert.
“Overdose and death is a risk that everybody has when we use opiates,” Peter Grinspoon, M.D., a Massachusetts-based primary care physician and recovering addict who is nine years sober, tells PEOPLE.
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Many close to the prolific singer say that he eschewed recreational drug use and rarely drank alcohol. Still, he was known to have taken painkillers to treat his hip, which musician and ex-girlfriend Sheila E. says “bothered him from jumping off risers for 20 years.”
Drugs like Percocet – which is a combination of acetaminophen and oxycodone – are addicting because they can cause “severe euphoria” by stimulating specific “opiate” receptors in the brain, says Grinspoon, 50, who wrote about his opioid addiction and recovery in his memoir Free Refills.
“It can cause the person to want to recreate this sensation over and over again, and eventually, they start to need to stimulate it in order to avoid becoming sick by not taking,” he says. “On an opiate, things can feel dream-like and unbelievably euphoric. You don’t feel physical or mental pain as much.”
For more on Prince’s private world and tragic death, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE on newsstands Friday
Prince’s longtime lawyer L. Londell McMillan has contested rumors of inappropriate drug use, saying that Prince was “not on any drugs that would be any cause for concern.”
A week before Prince passed away, his plane made an emergency landing in Moline, Illinois because he was unresponsive and was rushed to a hospital. PEOPLE has confirmed that a “save shot” was administered to revive the singer.
Grinspoon explains that an overdose can be “immediately” reversed with a “save shot,” commonly known as Narcan, which is an opiate antidote. “If you can get it to people in time, it can absolutely be life saving,” he says.
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Moreover, the doctor explains that in some cases an opiate overdose can lead to death. “In a nutshell, you stop breathing,” says Grinspoon. “You just get increasingly intoxicated and at some point, you just stop breathing, you fall unconscious because there would be a lack of oxygen to your brain and your brain would shut down and you would die.”
It is still unclear what caused Prince’s sudden death. An autopsy was conducted on Friday, but results will take up to several weeks to be released. Officials said there were no obvious signs of trauma.