Prince’s Fentanyl Overdose Is a Visible Sign of Our Nationwide Crisis

Jun 08, 2016, by Dr. Becky Coats

In April, we lost one of our great national icons. Prince died too young, and he died because of our nation’s increasing reliance on powerful opioids to treat chronic pain.

Our nation is struggling to reduce our reliance on these chronic pain treatments that are ultimately ineffective. Although some people benefit from this type of treatment, it’s important to consider drug-free alternatives for chronic pain conditions like TMJ whenever possible.

Prince, Percocet, and Fentanyl

Last week, medical examiners released a partial report of their findings about the cause of Prince’s death. They said that he died of an overdose of self-administered fentanyl, and listed his death as being an accident.

Fentanyl is a prescription opioid that is used to control chronic pain. Although Prince didn’t have a valid prescription for fentanyl, it’s likely that he was using it not for recreation purposes, but for helping to control pain associated with the rigors of performing. Prince’s performances were marked by his high-energy movements, and he always gave generously of himself during these performances, perhaps too generously for the reserves of his small frame, just five foot three and 112 pounds.

Fentanyl was not the first drug of choice for Prince. It had been reported decades before that Prince was regularly using percocet for pain related to performing, and may have had a dependence, possibly even an addiction to the drug. As is the case for many people, relying on an opioid for relief of chronic pain was likely ineffective for Prince, and probably drove him to his eventual overdose.

Fentanyl is one of the strongest opioids available, and it was originally approved only for use in terminally ill cancer patients, though it has recently come to be prescribed frequently for back pain and other chronic pains.

Why Opioids Are Ineffective for Chronic Pain

Anyone who has taken opioids for acute pain is probably baffled by the notion that opioids can be ineffective. If you’re suffering from serious pain, nothing can make you forget about it like opioids–you just don’t experience the pain of your broken leg or surgical wounds or extracted tooth. So why aren’t opioids effective for treating chronic pain?

There are several reasons why opioids don’t work long-term. The first is the problem of opioid tolerance. As the body is exposed to opioids on a daily basis, it begins to develop a tolerance for the drug, which means that larger and larger doses are required to achieve the same effect.

At the same time, opioids can cause sensitization. Known as opioid-induced hyperalgesia (OIH), many patients experience a condition where their body actually becomes more sensitive to pain. For chronic pain patients, this means that not only do they have their original chronic pain, but they experience additional pain from everyday stimuli.

As a result, patients taking opioids for chronic pain tend to take larger and larger doses over time, although they may not experience any benefits from their treatment. One large study showed that only about 20% of people on chronic, long-term opioid therapy had a good result from their treatment. Less than 30% had a moderate result, and more than 50% had a poor result in terms of pain and functionality. Patients also saw their dosages increase over time, and many moved from low-potency opioids such as oxycodone (the opioid in percocet) to higher-potency opioids such as fentanyl.

Explore Drug-Free Treatments for Chronic Pain

It’s clear that for many people starting on opioids means never stopping until death. And for nearly 30,000 Americans a year, death comes prematurely as a result of opioid overdose. That’s why the FDA and the CDC are discouraging the use of opioids for chronic pain.

So what can be done to treat a chronic pain condition like TMJ? We offer drug-free TMJ treatment with neuromuscular dentistry. It doesn’t work for everyone, but for many people it offers relief from chronic jaw pain and headaches without drugs, and may relieve other symptoms like tinnitus, too.

To learn whether your chronic pain can benefit from neuromuscular dentistry, please call (817) 481-6888 for an appointment with Dallas TMJ dentist Dr. Becky Coats at Grapevine Dental Care.