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What to know about the legal drug that killed Prince

Ally Hirschlag is a producer/actor/writer who lives in Brooklyn, NY and buys way too many toys for her cats. She contributes to several publications, including Bustle, and The Nerve, and enjoys writing about all things woman. In her spar...

If you weren't taking the opioid epidemic seriosuly, it's time to start

Ever since irreplaceable music icon Prince passed away suddenly, there has been speculation over the cause of his death. The initial report was that he was experiencing flu-like symptoms for which he was actually hospitalized days before. However, after an autopsy, we now know the unfortunate truth about his death — it was caused by an opioid overdose.

More: Prince's cause of death doesn't make him any less of an icon

But not just any opioid. According to a recent report from Minnesota officials, Prince OD'd on fentanyl, a synthetic opioid usually prescribed to people who are in constant pain. For anyone who used to watch House, you know how powerful a hold such pain medication can have on people who never have relief from a physical injury or ailment.

Prince had hip replacement surgery back in 2010, and according to several close friends, he was in a significant amount of pain ever since then. His doctors eventually prescribed him this incredibly potent painkiller.

Here's what you need to know about this prescription opioid.

1. It's 50 times more powerful than heroin and 100 times more powerful than morphine.

If you've ever been prescribed morphine, you know how intensely overwhelming it feels. Now imagine 100 times that feeling, and you have some idea of what Prince was experiencing on a regular basis.

2. Officials say fentanyl overdose has become an epidemic.

According to Massachusetts officials, there was an apparent jump in heroin deaths in 2014, but upon further inspection, it appeared those deaths were actually caused by fentanyl. Opioid addicts seek it out because it's a cheaper, higher high.

More: The sad, scary reason addicts are abusing Imodium A-D

3. Fentanyl has been used to treat pain since the 1960s.

Today it's often administered via patch or lozenge, so it's easy to smuggle illegally, which is what's been happening recently across the Mexican-American border.

4. Last March, the DEA issued a nationwide alert about the drug.

DEA officials stated that fentanyl overdoses were “occurring at an alarming rate throughout the United States and represent a significant threat to public health and safety.”

5. It works incredibly fast.

“When you inject it, it hits before you’re even done giving the shot,” one woman, who wished to remain anonymous, told The New York Times. “That’s why so many people get caught with the needle still hanging out of their arm. It’s bam! To your brain.” In fact, it works so fast that there's usually little to no time to stop an overdose from happening with the drug naloxone.

6. Fentanyl is a Schedule ll drug.

This means it has a high propensity to be incredibly addictive, more so than other opioids that perform a similar function.

7. It causes death by slowing or even stopping one's breathing.

The term for this effect is severe respiratory depression, which, simply put, means the user's breathing becomes compromised and can even stop completely. This is the case with many addictive opioids.

8. It's being produced illegally at a staggering rate.

According to Maura Healey, the Massachusetts attorney general, the Mexican cartel has figured out how to manufacture and distribute fentanyl so cheaply and easily that it's become a staple trafficking drug.

9. Cases of fentanyl abuse were reported as early as the 1970s.

However, deaths from overdose have skyrocketed since then. According to the DEA, the drug caused over 1,000 deaths in the United States between 2005 and 2007.

The lesson here is that prescription painkillers are just as deadly as illegal substances and can actually end up being more addictive and do more harm because they're easier to procure. Those who deal with pain every day are more susceptible to becoming dependent on drugs like fentanyl, but the real danger lies in the allowances people take with them because they think they're safer since they came from a doctor.

More: Prince's death is probably related to drugs, according to expert

Prince was allegedly making moves to get help for his addiction days before he died. If you suspect someone of being addicted to prescription painkillers, it's important to address the issue outright and to see what you can do about getting them the help they need before it's too late.

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