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Musician Prince Died Of Accidental Overdose, Says Medical Examiner

David Corio
Redferns/Getty Images
(This post was last updated at 4:20 p.m. ET.)

The iconoclast musician Prince died of a drug overdose, the Midwest Medical Examiner's Office in Ramsey, Minn., has found.

In a report released publicly on Thursday, the medical examiner said Prince Rogers Nelson self-administered a deadly dose of the synthetic opiate fentanyl by accident.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, fentanyl, a schedule II drug, is typically used to "treat patients with severe pain."

As Minnesota Public Radio reports:

"Fentanyl is one of the most dangerous opioid painkillers, said Dr. Charles Reznikoff, an addiction medicine specialist at Hennepin County Medical Center.

" 'Fentanyl is what I call the Ebola of opioids. The reason I call it that is Fentanyl kills you quickly, very quickly, as opposed to many of the other opioids that take a long time and are less apt to kill you in overdose,' Reznikoff said."

NPR's Carrie Johnson spoke to Drug Enforcement Administration spokesman Lawrence Payne who said that seizures of fentanyl have increased significantly in the past couple of years. It's one part of the country's opioid epidemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly two-thirds of drug overdose deaths in 2014 in the U.S. involved some kind of opioid.

Payne said the DEA is seeing "more and more" fentanyl both on its own and mixed with heroin.

"From what we know, most heroin users are not aware that [what] they are consuming is in fact Fentanyl rather than heroin," Payne told Carrie. "This can be attributed to a majority of the opiate-related overdoses we are seeing. The users are not accustomed to consuming such a powerful dose and most think it is the same dose of heroin rather than Fentanyl, which is 25 time to 50 times stronger."

As National Institute on Drug Abuse notes, fentanyl is both a prescription drug and a street drug. We don't know how Prince acquired this drug or why he was taking it. However, Prince's overdose could well make him the most high profile victim of the opioid epidemic.

Last month, a doctor who is a national authority on addiction said that representatives for Prince had contacted his office seeking help for the singer. Dr. Howard Kornfeld dispatched his son, but ultimately it was too late. Andrew Kornfeld, was among those who found Prince dead in an elevator at his Paisley Park compound.

Prince was 57 years old.

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Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.