The death of Prince shocked the nation, a great artist lost to early, and his death has since been linked to opioids. Many celebrities have struggled with drug and alcohol addiction, but this story seems different. Prince did have a problem it appears with opioid addiction, as he died from an overdose most likely of fentanyl mixed in with oxycodone. He knew he had a problem, but for some reason he was slow to seek treatment, and help was just hours to late. The reason why this celebrity death is different is that Prince had chronic pain, and opioids were being used to help control symptoms.
Chronic pain is estimated to affect about 30 percent of the population in the United States as well as throughout the world. As a musician, Prince had apparently developed several injuries related to his work. He definitely had hip arthritis with deterioration of at least one of his joints. He may also have had other injuries, possibly pain related to repetitive stress on joints from hours of practice and playing multiple instruments. According to some reports, Prince would have definitely benefited from hip surgery and possibly a replacement. However he was a Jehovah’s Witness and this surgery was against his beliefs. Instead of taking care of it surgically, he chose other strategies.
Pain and the Pressure To Perform
Prince, like every other professional, felt the obligation to always be up and performing. Everyone wants to hide their suffering from others, and many people will go to any end to be able to look their best. For performers like Prince, either he showed up and gave a great show or he would probably no longer have a career. As far as his health, he made it a secondary priority. Chronic pain does not discriminate, and crosses all social, cultural and economic groups. No one gets special privileges, only you may be able to afford more treatments. Celebrities are also not immune from overdose, addiction, and certainly not death.
Chronic pain in Prince’s case was a result of hip joint destruction. As with all painful conditions, there are multiple ways to treat it. The best way when it has become severe, and when the circumstances are similar to his, is surgical replacement. This usually solves the problem and mostly eliminates the pain while restoring near normal function. Unfortunately, personal religious convictions limited this option. Other good treatments would have been:
- Anti-inflammatory medication
- Possible cognitive/behavioral therapies
Long-term opioids are not a good choice. The worst choice was self-medicating with opioids obtained illegally, since there is no way to know what they might contain. Chronic pain is not a sexy disease, and no one wants to be the poster child for such a disease. Maybe Prince will be the poster person. Unfortunately, he be a sobering reminder about the drawbacks of self-medication.
Chronic pain is extremely common, if you have pain, first start working with a primary care physician. If it is not responding to straight forward management, get a pain management specialist on the team to help find better solutions. Pain has many solutions, opioids are only one of many tools, and usually it is not one of the better ones, and it is generally extremely poor for long-term use. If medications are part of pain treatment, then one provider and one pharmacy is needed, and street drugs are off limits. Further, the primary prescriber needs to be screening all patients for abuse since it is difficult to determine who will be an abuser of medications. Lastly, if one does become addicted to medication, then it is time to get over embarrassment and get treatment so you do not end up overdosing.
Chronic pain is a difficult problem, it occurs in a third of the population in general. If you have pain, get good advice and obtain knowledgeable medical treatment.