Prince death: Minnesota prosecutor will not file criminal charges | News | DW | 19.04.2018
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Prince death: Minnesota prosecutor will not file criminal charges

Prosecutors have said they won't file charges related to the death of pop star Prince. At the same time, the doctor accused of prescribing painkillers for Prince has reached a settlement with federal prosecutors.

Prosecutors investigating the death of pop star Prince announced on Thursday that their two-year probe had not found "sufficient evidence to charge anyone with a crime."

However, the Minnesota prosecutor's announcement came just hours after federal authorities revealed that the doctor initially suspected of prescribing the opioid that killed Prince had agreed to pay a $30,000 (€24,000) settlement with US federal prosecutors.

Read more: Prince estate blocks new music release on anniversary of pop icon's death

Prince was found dead in April 2016 after suffering an accidental overdose at his Paisley Park compound near Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The pop star was found to have ingested fentanyl, a synthetic opioid up to 50 times stronger than heroin. The drug is only available in the US by prescription but is often abused by addicts and sold illegally.

Prince did not have a prescription for fentanyl.

Carver County Attorney Mark Metz said that "nothing in the evidence suggests Prince knowingly ingested fentanyl" and that he thought he was taking Vicodin, the trade name for another opioid combined with paracetamol.

Thursday's announcement effectively closes the state of Minnesota's investigation into the death of one of its most famous and beloved stars.

Read more: Minnesota celebrates Prince Day with purple

Prince's doctor under the spotlight

Federal authorities had been investigating Prince's doctor, Michael Schulenberg, on suspicion that he violated the US' Controlled Substances Act by prescribing drugs for Prince in someone else's name. Prosecutors had alleged that Schulenberg wrote a prescription for oxycodone in the name of Prince's bodyguard, with the intention that the drugs be passed on to the singer.

Oxycodone is not linked to the singer's death.

Addressing the federal charges filed against Prince, Metz said his office found that the physician had made out the prescription to one of Prince's associates to protect the singer's privacy, which is illegal. Nevertheless, there was "no evidence that the pills that killed Prince were prescribed by a doctor," the state prosecutor added.

Schulenberg's settlement, which made no mention of Prince or the investigation into the singer's death, will see him undergo supervision and allow the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to access logs of the medications he is prescribing. If he does not comply, he risks losing his medical license.

Minnesota's top federal prosecutor, US Attorney Greg Brooker, vowed to pursue other doctors who abuse prescription handouts. "Doctors are trusted medical professionals and, in the midst of our opioid crisis, they must be part of the solution," he said in a statement Thursday.

Read more: OxyContin maker to stop promoting opioids

America's opioid crisis

Oxycodone, the drug that Schulenberg had written out a prescription for in the name of Prince's bodyguard, is part of a family of painkillers that are driving the US' opioid crisis

The most recent figures released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that some 63,000 people died from a drug overdose in the US in 2016. Around two-thirds of those deaths were linked to opioid use, a surge of 28 percent from the year before. 

Read more: Donald Trump proposes death penalty for some drug dealers to battle opioid epidemic

US President Donald Trump last October declared the US' drug crisis a public health emergency, and has even broached executing those found guilty of trafficking opioids.

Each evening at 1830 UTC, DW's editors send out a selection of the day's hard news and quality feature journalism. You can sign up to receive it directly here.

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