Prince's home strewn with painkillers

Singer Prince (above) died in April last year after an accidental opioid overdose.
Singer Prince (above) died in April last year after an accidental opioid overdose.PHOTO: NYTIMES

MINNEAPOLIS • At the time of Prince's death, his Paisley Park home and recording compound in Minnesota were strewn with narcotic painkillers for which he did not have prescriptions, including some hidden in over-the-counter vitamin and aspirin bottles and others issued in the name of a close aide, according to newly released court documents.

Search warrants and affidavits from the Carver County Sheriff's Office, which is leading the continuing homicide investigation in conjunction with the Drug Enforcement Administration, were unsealed on Monday.

The documents do not solve the mystery of where Prince got the powerful opioid fentanyl that killed him last year. But they sketch a picture of how the musician, a strict proponent of clean living who suffered from chronic hip pain, concealed his opioid addiction using a variety of methods.

In at least one instance, he procured an opiate prescription in the name of Kirk Johnson, a personal friend and employee since the 1980s, according to investigators.

Prince was found dead in the lift of his home in Chanhassen, Minnesota, on April 21 last year, by Mr Johnson and others after he ingested a fatal amount of fentanyl, which is often used to manufacture counterfeit pills that are sold on the black market as oxycodone and other pain relievers.

Investigators have said they are most concerned with who obtained the fentanyl and have yet to charge anyone over Prince's death. They noted in court records that those who were present at the home that morning "provided inconsistent and, at times, contradictory statements".

The warrants, dating from April to September last year, show investigators tracking to what extent Mr Johnson had helped Prince conceal his drug habit, at one point applying for a search warrant for Mr Johnson's cellphone records.

Dr Michael T. Schulenberg, who treated Prince for the hip pain in the weeks before his death and arrived at Paisley Park with test results that morning, told investigators that he had prescribed the singer oxycodone on April 14, a week before the fatal overdose, "but put the prescription in Kirk Johnson's name for Prince's privacy", according to a search warrant.

That prescription was filled on the same day that Prince's private jet was forced to make an emergency landing in Illinois after he overdosed during a flight home following a concert in Atlanta.

Mr Johnson told hospital staff at the time that Prince "may have taken Percocet", an opioid containing oxycodone, on the plane, according to one application for a search warrant.

In a statement, Dr Schulenberg's lawyer, Ms Amy S. Conners, said: "Dr Schulenberg never directly prescribed opioids to Prince, nor did he ever prescribe opioids to any other person with the intent that they would be given to Prince."

In several instances, Mr Johnson, who had unrestricted access to Paisley Park, told the investigators that he had limited knowledge of Prince's dependence on painkillers.

On the day before the singer's death, he said, he went to a local Walgreens to pick up three prescriptions issued by Dr Schulenberg for drugs often used to treat anxiety. According to the court papers, he said it "was the first time he had ever done something like that for Prince".

Among the additional evidence found at Paisley Park was a suitcase with a name tag for "Peter Bravestrong", an alias used by Prince, containing several prescription bottles in Mr Johnson's name. In addition to Prince's bedroom, pills were found throughout the residence, including the laundry room, the police said.

Among the drugs seized were 201/2 white pills labelled "Watson 853", a mix of acetaminophen and hydrocodone, that were found in an Aleve bottle.

Investigators later found that the pills contained fentanyl, according to published reports, but they have not given any indication as to whether those pills are tied to Prince's death.

Some overdoses, officials say, are attributable to the fact that people take what they believe is a pain pill of a strength they are familiar with and die because they are unaware it has been produced with a much stronger drug, such as fentanyl.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 19, 2017, with the headline 'Prince's home strewn with painkillers'. Print Edition | Subscribe