Prince and Why We Need More Compassion About Addiction

Prince and Why We Need More Compassion About Addiction

We don’t yet know why Prince died. The facts aren’t in, and I don’t want to draw conclusions until I have more information.

That said, some entertainment media outlets (TMZ, Variety, and more) are reporting that Prince was treated with naloxone, which is the antidote for opioids including heroin, in the days before his death.

If that were true, it would mean that Prince was taking too much of a substance, whether it was prescribed or not.

But, if that turns out to be the case, it won’t change the fact that he was a musical icon, and it won’t change the fact that the world has lost an irreplaceable voice.

It won’t mitigate the loss of a superstar and a vibrant, innovative talent.

Here’s What Worries Me….

But here’s what worries me: in this age when the media reports information (or misinformation) as it comes in, the tide often turns against the individual who has inappropriately used drugs.

Learning that a  celebrity died from an  addiction may change people’s perception of him or her, and it may diminish the tragedy of the death in the eyes of some who will rush to judgment. I’ve seen that happen too often when someone dies of an opioid overdose.

Here’s what I’d like for people to understand. If we find out that  celebrities  — or anyone, for that matter – inadvertently overdosed on prescription medications or became addicted to heroin — we have to realize that they are still precious human beings.

Drug addiction doesn’t mean the person’s life is worth less than it otherwise would be.

Addiction isn’t a character flaw. It is a disease, and it’s a thief that can steal our friends, fathers, mothers, children, or — certainly — our beloved pop culture heroes from us.

We can miss Whitney Houston, and mourn the loss of Philip Seymour Hoffman, and want to bring back Cory Monteith, although their medical records and autopsy results may show us that addiction played a role in their deaths. We can love and honor our family members, neighbors, colleagues, and friends although they may suffer from addiction, too. In fact, it is our obligation to treat everyone with compassion and not to stigmatize someone with a disease, whatever that disease may be.

People with addiction are not letting us down or disappointing us when they use substances. They can’t control their addiction any more than they could be expected to control any other disease, whether it’s cancer, cardiac problems, or diabetes.

People With Addictions Have A Disease

People who live with addiction, or who die of addiction, aren’t doing anything wrong. We feel horrible when we lose an idol, a childhood friend, or anyone else, and that’s bad enough.

People with addiction need our understanding and appropriate medical treatment, not our disdain.

Now, if TMZ is correct, and Prince was treated with naloxone, here’s the issue: Naloxone (Narcan) works for only about 40 minutes. That’s enough time to save a life and buy time until an individual gets to a medical care facility where more naloxone can be administered or a person’s breathing can be supported.

If a person opts out of treatment because he/she is worried about the damage that might cause their reputation, then that just adds to the tragedy of the death. Immediate treatment can save someone from an overdose.

Lawmakers and Naloxone

Lawmakers may debate the rules that govern how people with opioid addictions should have access to naloxone. But moralizing about addiction doesn’t help people with addiction. We don’t add joy to our lives, and we don’t make the people who matter to us either healthier or happier, when we judge them for falling prey to the disease of addiction.

Maine Gov. Paul LePage recently vetoed a bill that would give people better access to naloxone. He said that it would only serve to allow the person an opportunity to overdose again. It is this attitude that contributes to the secrecy and deadliness of addiction.  This is like saying a person who has a heart attack should not be  resuscitated by all available means, because it would only serve to allow the person the opportunity to have another heart attack.

This is clearly absurd.

No one should feel forced to deny the fact of their addiction in order to sustain a career, or to maintain the support of their loved ones. That’s just not the way it’s supposed to work. Death is hard enough. Attaching a stigma to the way someone we cared about died is just unworthy of us all.

We, as society members, must offer compassion to those with addiction. It’s within our power to support our loved ones when they struggle with addiction, and to honor them throughout the stages of their sickness.


Purchase my book The Painful Truth: What Chronic Pain Is Really Like and Why It Matters to Each of Us (available on Amazon) or read a free excerpt here.

the painful truth, lynn webster, md, chronic pain

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Copyright 2016, Lynn Webster, MD





  1. […] memory of Prince, Dr. Lynn Webster recently posted THIS BLOG  on his Painful Truth website and was kind enough to repost it here as a guest blogger. We thank […]

  2. Brenda on April 25, 2016 at 11:45 am

    Thank you!

  3. LaTara on April 25, 2016 at 2:27 pm

    Why are you using Prince to draw people into this article? Do you know his medical history? Have the autopsy results come back? Please school me on your knowledge.

    • Lynn Webster, M.D. on April 25, 2016 at 4:38 pm

      Part of my life’s work is to teach people to empathize with, and not blame, people in pain. The untimely death of a beloved musical icon provides an opportunity to test our ability to demonstrate compassion. That is why I blogged about it.

      • Sheree on April 25, 2016 at 8:59 pm

        Well said Lyn – looking forward to reading more of your work. As I agree with your article,have said for a long time addiction is related to disease. Nice to see someone agrees. X

    • Mary on April 28, 2016 at 9:27 am

      Sooo true !!! You read my mind too. Also, I wan to add that IFFF narcane had been available for my son, he would not have died!!!! THATS why we still need it. We just need to put it in the right hands for the right time !!!

  4. Celeste Cooper on April 25, 2016 at 5:45 pm

    This came at an opportune time. I was thinking about Dr. Drew Pinsky’s remark on television, that celebrities are said to have the flu when they are addicted to drugs. I thought at the time, what a crass thing to say about a human being, and before any facts are even in, and mostly because he is supposed to be an addiction specialist.

  5. Teri on April 25, 2016 at 8:15 pm

    Dr. Webster,
    I lost my beloved son STEFAN to a heroin/fentanyl overdose 29 months & 2 weeks ago. I cannot tell you how much this article means to those of us left behind. I’ve actually read a comment before stating people dying from overdoses are just “natural selection”. Can you imagine the added pain that caused my already broken heart?
    Thank you for trying to educate people on this horrible epidemic.

    • Mary on April 28, 2016 at 9:30 am

      Soooooo sorry for YOUR loss. Only someone who’s gone through this pain can understand. And I certainly do. 11/12/15 my boy passed and is ABSOLUTELY the most agonizing pain a person will deal with !!!

  6. Celeste Cooper on April 26, 2016 at 10:56 am

    Dr. Webster, when I posted your blog, I got responses. I found this one particularly enlightening, so I thought I should share it with you and your readers.

    Why for the love of God do they say Prince was addicted??!! The poor man had endured years of pain with hip problems and apparently had recently had surgery then went on tour. Has anyone seen what he does for hours on stage? He was in such pain that a man who was very strongly against drugs relented in a moment of distress on his plane and took meds. His body was not opiate aware and he had a terrible reaction. Again later he was in desperate pain and needed attention but didn’t seek it because he’s such a private guy. So he tried to deal with it and look what happened. He wasn’t sitting around going on a trip. He was a dedicated artist trying desperately to continue his demanding career against this terrible thing called Pain and now the media is having a field day painting him as a junkie. Why isn’t there one person in the media who would find the truth a sensational enough story that telling lies and spewing questions that point to more lies?? Why isn’t telling the truth in media rewarded?.

  7. Theo on April 26, 2016 at 12:38 pm

    Thank you for writing this article Dr. Webster. We need more compassionate, understanding doctors like you. Below is a quote from a text message my son who is battling horrible disease of addiction wrote after visit to ER. He was NOT drug seeking. I demanded to speak to the charge nurse afterwards and he said that he wasn’t involved in what happened instead of apologizing. I told him this was completely unacceptable behavior and totally unprofessional! We NEED to stop the stigma and shame of addiction! Addiction does NOT discriminate…it’s a horrible, ruthless disease. My doctor friend (who lost her little brother to Heroin OD) that knows some of the ER doctors at this hospital and notified them. I filed formal complaint with hospital and will also be filing a complaint with state medical board.

    “I just went to the saint Mark’s emergency room because I’ve been breaking out in this real bad rash all over my chest and shoulders. My face also feels like it’s on fire. Well, when I checked in I told them about my opiate problem. I just wanted to get antibiotics for the problem because it’s been getting worse. As I was waiting for the Doctor to come in he walked up to his nurse’s right outside my room and they all started making fun of me he said in a Hill Billy accent ” well maybe if I wouldn’t get all doped up on pain meds my face wouldn’t be burning” heck I’m so high I’ll wait till the last moment to try and fix myself since I’m probably pissed off I ran out of drugs” and all three of them were laughing right outside my door then they all walked off . They didn’t even come in. I just pulled out the I.v. and walked out I wanted to break down in to tears who should I call and report this too?”

  8. Donna Smith on April 28, 2016 at 3:28 am

    “People with addiction are not letting us down or disappointing us when they use substances. They can’t control their addiction any more than they could be expected to control any other disease, whether it’s cancer, cardiac problems, or diabetes.”
    A child struggling to live while fighting leukemia didn’t choose that disease by their own actions. Your comparing the two is simply vile.

  9. […] The Painful Truth […]

  10. […] I published my recent blog, Prince and Why We Need More Compassion About Addiction, I began by saying that we didn’t yet know why Prince died. The facts weren’t in, and I […]

  11. activator on June 15, 2016 at 11:09 am

    Yeah, seriously – thank you. My list is now officially blown out of the water.

  12. Donna J on January 26, 2017 at 10:23 am

    We know now that he died of Fentanyl poisoning, and that the Fentanyl was pressed into tablets that were indistinguishable from Norco. I don’t think Prince was a drug addict at all.

    Why isn’t anyone discussing the probability that Prince suffered from untreated or undertreated pain? His entire life he has been anti-substance abuse and a teetotaler. He insisted that his bandmates, his entourage, his family and friends all not drink or do illicit drugs of any sort around him. In the early 2000s he became a Jehovah’s Witness, and took his religion very seriously. And then he decided now is the time to start recreational drug use and chasing a high? So very unlikely.

    I hope somehow the truth comes out one way or another. I believe that he thought he was taking pharmaceutical grade hydrocodone/apap to control pain in his damaged hip joints. I suspect his own doctors wouldn’t prescribe enough medication for pain control and he found another source, a friend or family member might have led him to believe he was getting their leftovers from an injury or surgery perhaps. That person may one day step forward, or law enforcement may one day track them down. I do wish we would get the whole story one day.

    I think Prince is a case study in pseudo-addiction. I also think that you will be seeing more and more pseudo-addicts, with people in chronic pain being cut back and cut off from opioids, the one thing that has given them any quality of life. They too may go to the streets for pain relief, but now they will be lumped in with addicts, even though they are seeking relief from pain, and not euphoria. And what of those who overdose on fake Norco or Percocet? They will be a statistic of drug addiction instead of a pain patient who got desperate, just like Prince is assumed now. And what of those who use the last bottle of their medicine to commit suicide? Again, they will add to the statistics of drug addiction, and again, even though they are simply desperate to escape pain, not trying to get high.

  13. Jared james on January 28, 2017 at 4:43 pm

    I tried to commit suicide by pouring gas on myself and set it on fire. I was in a coma for over a month and unfortunately woke up in a burn unit. I am in so much chronic pain from a 150 ft fall into concrete when I was 18. I was stable for many years on large amounts of opioids. Now I am denied any quality of life. I hate living. It is torture every day that I breathe. I am healing from third degree burns on fifty percent of my body. Imagine the pain of that alone. It doesn’t compare to the amount of pain I physically suffer everyday. Since we don’t matter and we are denied anything that gives us any quality of life, I have been begging for the government to allow me a pieceful death by doctor assisted suicide . We can’t talk about it cuz they want to lock us up if we admit to being suicidal. I don’t know where to turn I am stuck. When I do succeed in death I want it to be understood that it is not depression but more of uncompassionate pain treatment.

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