How Prince Concealed His Addiction: Aspirin Bottles of Opiates

At the time of Prince’s death, his Paisley Park home and recording compound in Minnesota were strewn with “a sizable amount” of narcotic painkillers for which he did not have prescriptions, including some hidden in over-the-counter vitamin and aspirin bottles and others issued in the name of a close aide, according to newly released court documents related to the investigation into the accidental opioid overdose that killed Prince last year.

Search warrants and affidavits from the Carver County Sheriff’s Office, which is leading the continuing homicide investigation in conjunction with the Drug Enforcement Administration, were unsealed on Monday.

The documents do not solve the mystery of where Prince got the powerful opioid fentanyl that killed him. But they sketch a picture of how this musician, a strict proponent of clean living who suffered from chronic hip pain, concealed his opioid addiction using a variety of methods, including mixing various prescription pills in bottles for everyday products like Bayer and Aleve. In at least one instance, Prince procured an opiate prescription in the name of Kirk Johnson, a personal friend and employee since the 1980s, according to investigators.

Prince was found dead in the elevator of his home in Chanhassen, Minn., on April 21, 2016, by Mr. Johnson and others after he ingested the fatal amount of fentanyl, which is often used to manufacture counterfeit pills that are sold on the black market as oxycodone and other pain relievers. Investigators have said they are most concerned with who obtained the fentanyl, and have yet to charge anyone in Prince’s death. They noted in court records that those who were present at the home that morning “provided inconsistent and, at times, contradictory statements.”

The warrants, dating from April to September of last year, show investigators tracking to what extent Mr. Johnson had helped Prince conceal his drug habit, at one point applying for a search warrant for Mr. Johnson’s cellphone records. Dr. Michael T. Schulenberg, who treated Prince for the hip pain in the weeks before his death and arrived at Paisley Park with test results that morning, told investigators that he had prescribed the singer oxycodone on April 14, a week before the fatal overdose, “but put the prescription in Kirk Johnson’s name for Prince’s privacy,” according to a search warrant.

In a statement, Dr. Schulenberg’s lawyer, Amy S. Conners, took issue with the assertion that her client had acknowledged prescribing oxycodone for Mr. Johnson that was actually intended for Prince. “Dr. Schulenberg never directly prescribed opioids to Prince, nor did he ever prescribe opioids to any other person with the intent that they would be given to Prince,” the statement said.

Ms. Conners has said that the physician has not been interviewed by investigators since the day Prince died. Dr. Schulenberg has not been the subject of any disciplinary action, according to the records of the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice.

Ruth Martinez, the board’s executive director, said that Minnesota state law “says you have to write a prescription for the person for whom it is intended. That’s reinforced by federal statutes.” She said that the board does not comment on whether a doctor’s conduct is being reviewed.

In several instances, Mr. Johnson, who had unrestricted access to Paisley Park, told the investigators that he had limited knowledge of Prince’s dependence on painkillers. On the day before the singer’s death, Mr. Johnson said he went to a local Walgreens to pick up three prescriptions issued by Dr. Schulenberg for drugs often used to treat anxiety; according to the court papers, he said it “was the first time he had ever done something like that for Prince.”

Among the evidence found at Paisley Park was a suitcase with a name tag for “Peter Bravestrong,” an alias used by Prince, containing several prescription bottles in Mr. Johnson’s name. (The suitcase also contained lyrics for the song “U Got the Look,” apparently in Prince’s handwriting, according to investigators.) In addition to Prince’s bedroom, pills were found throughout the residence, including in the laundry room, the police said.

A lawyer for Mr. Johnson, F. Clayton Tyler, said in a statement: “After reviewing the search warrants and affidavits released today, we believe that it is clear that Kirk Johnson did not secure nor supply the drugs which caused Prince’s death. There will be no further comment.”

The Associated Press has reported that Mr. Johnson has not been interviewed since hours after Prince’s death. In a recent interview with CBS, including a tour of the Paisley Park compound, Mr. Johnson was asked about Prince’s final days. “Kirk has a vault,” he said. “Right here. It’s never gonna be unlocked.”

Among the drugs seized were 20 and a half white pills labeled “Watson 853,” a mix of acetaminophen and hydrocodone, that were found in an Aleve bottle. Investigators later found that the pills contained fentanyl, according to published reports, but they have not given any indication as to whether those pills are tied to Prince’s death. Notes from investigators say that 64 and one-quarter matching Watson 853 pills were also found in a Bayer bottle, and another 15 were discovered in a second-floor dressing room.

Some overdoses, officials say, are attributable to the fact that people take what they believe is a pain pill of a strength they are familiar with and die because they are unaware it has been produced with a much stronger drug, like fentanyl.

Others who spoke to investigators included Andrew Kornfeld, the son of Dr. Howard Kornfeld, an opioid-addiction specialist who had been called on to treat Prince. Andrew Kornfeld arrived at Paisley Park after Prince had died with a small dose of the drug Suboxone, an anti-addiction agent and controlled substance. He is the person who called 911.

Andrew, who is not a doctor, told investigators that he had not planned on administering the drug until he had consulted with a physician authorized to prescribe it. His lawyer, William Mauzy, said that he believes Andrew is exempt from criminal liability as a result of Minnesota’s Good Samaritan law, which protects a 911 caller and the overdose victim from prosecution for drug possession.

Also interviewed was the singer Judith Hill, who was in a romantic relationship with Prince and was on board during the diverted flight.

Prince, who died last April at the age of 57, was concealing an addiction to opiates, according to investigators. Credit Jumana El Heloueh/Reuters

Prince documents unsealed: No meds in home were prescribed to him

None of the medications found in Prince's home following his death last year were prescribed to him, according to court documents unsealed Monday.

Bottles of opioid painkillers -- some prescribed to Prince's former drummer and longtime friend Kirk Johnson -- were found in several places in Paisley Park, and many medications were found in vitamin pill bottles and in envelopes, search warrants showed.

Dr. Michael Todd Schulenberg said he wrote an Oxycodone prescription for Prince under Johnson's name for privacy purposes, according to a search warrant that was among the documents unsealed. A search of the Minnesota Prescription Monitoring Program showed that Prince had no prescriptions issued under his name, and that Johnson only had that one, the warrant said.

In a statement Monday, Schulenberg's attorney said the doctor was cooperating with the investigation and denied prescribing opioids to Prince or "any other person with the intent that they would be given to Prince."
The details from those documents show the possible direction of the criminal investigation into Prince's accidental overdose death almost exactly a year ago, a death that left fans around the world heartbroken and bewildered.

Prince's last days
But the circumstances that led up to his death remain a mystery. Among the unanswered questions haunting those who loved and admired him: Who supplied Prince with the painkiller that killed him? Did he know what he was taking? And how long was he taking opioid pain medication?

No one has been charged in connection with his death, but authorities say the investigation is still open and active.

The medical examiner's office said Prince died of an accidental overdose of the opioid fentanyl. The Minneapolis Star Tribune last August quoted a source with knowledge of the investigation as saying that pills seized by investigators at Prince's home were labeled as hydrocodone but actually contained fentanyl.

Fentanyl is the strongest painkiller on the market, estimated to be at least 50 times more potent than morphine and at least 30 times more potent than heroin.

According to one of the unsealed search warrants, investigators did not find fentanyl among the cache of pills, many of which were hidden in bottles labeled "Bayer" and "Alleve."

According to another search warrant issued April 21, 2016, the same day Prince was found dead at his home in Chanhassen, Minnesota, investigators found several pills labeled "Watson 853" -- hydrocodone-acetaminophen, sometimes called Vicodin -- and capsules marked "A-349," which is Percocet, in different bottles in various locations in the residence.

Also according to the search warrant, investigators were told by witnesses that Prince "recently had a history of going through withdrawals which are believed to be the result of abuse of prescription medication."

Federal prosecutors and the Drug Enforcement Administration are investigating how Prince obtained prescription medications and from whom. Because Prince had no prescriptions issued in his name, investigators sought access to email servers to see if he purchased them via email, according to the documents.

Pills found in suitcase
Search warrants and other documents related to criminal cases are normally public record, but authorities had requested all documents related to the Prince death investigation be sealed as the probe proceeded. Authorities asked that the search warrants be sealed "until April 17, 2017 or when a criminal case may be instituted, whichever occurs first."

Information in the warrants also revealed that investigators found a suitcase containing several prescription bottles in the name of Johnson, who told investigators last year that the singer had been struggling with opiate use.

The suitcase also contained the lyrics for "U got the Look," which appeared to be in Prince's handwriting. The suitcase had a tag on it bearing the name "Peter Bravestrong," which investigators determined is an alias for Prince.

CNN's attempts to reach Johnson on Monday were not immediately successful.

Schulenburg is a local doctor who arrived at Paisley Park after the singer's body was found in an elevator inside the complex, according to the documents.

The doctor left his job at North Memorial Medical Center nearly three weeks after Prince's death.

According to a search warrant, Schulenberg told investigators he saw Prince on April 7 and April 20, and prescribed medications for Prince to be picked up at a Walgreens pharmacy. He went to Paisley Park on April 21 -- the day Prince was found -- to drop off test results, he said.

On Monday, however, Schulenberg denied prescribing Prince any medication.

"Dr. Schulenberg has been and remains committed to providing full transparency regarding his practice as it relates to the Prince investigation," his lawyer, Amy Conners, said in a statement.

"Dr. Schulenberg has previously disclosed all information regarding his care and treatment of Prince to his former employer, law enforcement authorities and regulatory authorities in the course of his complete cooperation with the investigation of Prince's death."

"There are no restrictions on Dr. Schulenberg's medical license, and contrary to headlines and media reports published in the wake of today's unsealing of search warrants relating to the investigation, Dr. Schulenberg never directly prescribed opioids to Prince, nor did he ever prescribe opioids to any other person with the intent that they would be given to Prince," Conners said.

Last show and an emergency landing
About a week before his death, Prince's private jet made an emergency landing early April 15 in Moline, Illinois, on the way back from a performance in Atlanta. His publicist reassured fans that the 57-year-old star was fine, but a May 6 search warrant said investigators spoke to a witness who said Prince was rushed to a hospital because he was unconscious, and that the singer had admitted to taking one or two pain pills.

The day before Prince died, his team called an eminent opioid addiction specialist in California seeking urgent help for the singer, an attorney working for the specialist and his son said.

The specialist, Dr. Howard Kornfeld, couldn't get there immediately so he sent his son, Andrew Kornfeld, on an overnight flight to Minnesota. The goal was for the younger Kornfeld to help evaluate Prince's health and encourage him to enter treatment for pain management and potential addiction issues, attorney William Mauzy told reporters.

But by the time Andrew Kornfeld arrived at the singer's Paisley Park complex on the morning of April 21, it was too late. He and five others were searching for Prince when Kornfeld said he heard a scream. He ran down the hall and found the 57-year-old entertainer unresponsive in an elevator. Andrew Kornfeld was the person who called 911, Mauzy said.

Prince's body was later cremated. Although the medical examiner's office released the cause of death, the full toxicology report was not -- and will not be -- released.

Signs of trouble?
Nearly everyone who was close to Prince -- and who has been willing to speak to the media -- said they never saw him taking any drugs. "He was the healthiest man I knew," a bodyguard known as "Romeo" told CNN.

That narrative is slowly beginning to change. In a new memoir called "The Most Beautiful," Prince's first wife, Mayte Garcia, said she never saw him take drugs, but she did say the singer once asked her to go up to his hotel room and "flush some pills." She said she didn't question what they were.

On another occasion, within weeks of their 1996 wedding, Garcia said she was informed that Prince was in the hospital and had to have his stomach pumped. Her husband explained that he had mixed wine with aspirin, she said.
She also writes of the couple's devastation after their first child died soon after birth and recounts noticing that her "Vicodin kept disappearing." They divorced in 2000.

And the former attorney for two of Prince's dead siblings says they had revealed Prince had an addiction to Percocet decades ago.

Prince's half-brother, Duane Nelson, said he used to get the drug for Prince to help him come down after shows, attorney Michael B. Padden said. Nelson died in 2013.

Another half-sibling, Lorna Nelson, also alleged drug use by Prince but was not involved in getting drugs for him, Padden said. She died in 2006.

Prince death: Opioid painkillers found at singer's home

Numerous opioid painkillers were found at US singer Prince's home shortly after his death last year, unsealed court documents show.
Some of the pills discovered at Prince's Paisley Park estate in Minnesota had prescriptions in the name of his friend and bodyguard.
But the documents do not offer evidence about the source of the fentanyl that killed the singer on 21 April 2016.
Medical examiners have concluded that he died from an accidental overdose.
No-one has been charged over the death of the 57-year-old singer.
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The court documents were kept sealed until Monday because prosecutors feared potential witnesses might flee or potential evidence be destroyed.

They show that some of the pills found at Prince's home were labelled "Watson 853" - the opioid painkiller acetaminophen-hydrocodone.

They are used in the treatment of pain, rheumatoid arthritis and coughs.

The unsealed documents also show that other "numerous narcotic controlled substance pills" were discovered in various containers, including vitamin bottles.

Investigators were "made aware by witnesses that were interviewed, that Prince recently had a history of going through withdrawals, which are believed to be the result of the abuse of prescription medication," the documents say.

They confirm last year's media reports that painkillers were in the singer's possession following his death.
According to the post-mortem report, Prince self-administered fentanyl, an opioid many times more powerful than heroin.

Prince was found unresponsive in a lift at his complex.

He was a prolific writer and performer from a young age, reportedly writing his first song when he was seven.
A singer, songwriter, arranger and multi-instrumentalist, Prince recorded more than 30 albums. His best known hits include Let's Go Crazy and When Doves Cry.

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