Prince’s Half-Sister Talks About His Death, Fentanyl

By Kelly Burch 09/28/18

Sharon Nelson says the music icon was just trying to control his pain when he took the fatal dose of fentanyl.


First came prescription drugs and heroin. Now, the synthetic opioid, fentanyl, is ripping through the country, killing scores of people who take heroin, cocaine or prescription pills that have been laced with fentanyl.

That’s exactly what happened to Prince, according to his half-sister, Sharon Nelson. 

Speaking with ABC News correspondent Bob Woodruff for a 20/20 segment that will air Friday night, Nelson said that her brother was just trying to control his pain. 

“He wouldn’t have taken a pill like that at all,” Nelson, Prince’s oldest sister, said in a preview released by ABC. “When you’re in pain, you’re going to take a pill, hoping it relieves it. You’re not thinking like that; you’re not thinking like a normal person who isn’t in pain.”

Woodruff said that Prince’s death made fentanyl a household name and raised awareness about the drug. 

“This is kind of a wakeup call for people around the country about the power and danger of these pills, from a man who—no chance given his intelligence and position in life—would never have taken a pill with so much fentanyl,” Woodruff said. 

Fentanyl can be used in a medical setting to control severe pain. However, toxicology reports showed that the levels of the drug in Prince’s blood when he died in April of 2016 were extremely high and were a “smoking gun,” as to his cause of death. 

“The amount in his blood is exceedingly high, even for somebody who is a chronic pain patient on fentanyl patches,” Dr. Lewis Nelson, chairman of emergency medicine at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, told the Associated Press earlier this year. 

However, there are reports that the singer thought that he was taking Vicodin, not fentanyl pills. Nelson said the fact that her brother, an experienced opioid user, died from an overdose shows how dangerous fentanyl is.

She said she hopes fans will realize that fentanyl is extremely dangerous and that it can be lurking anywhere—even when people think they know what drugs they are taking. 

“After all that’s happened to Prince, I know, I can say for sure that his fans will never take that pill,” she said.

The episode of 20/20 that Nelson appears on is focused on fentanyl, including investigating the source of illicit fentanyl from China and speaking with families who have lost loved ones to fentanyl overdose. 

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.