Pubdate: Sat, 04 Jun 2016
Source: Palm Beach Post, The (FL)
Copyright: 2016 The Palm Beach Post
Author: Carl Hulse


Lawmakers Mostly Agree That Congress Needs to Take Steps.

The official confirmation of Prince's death by opioid overdose is 
likely to reverberate in Washington, where lawmakers are still trying 
to hammer out a deal on legislation attempting to stem a national 
crisis in abuse of those drugs.

"No one is immune," Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said in a statement. 
Portman is one of the main authors of the Senate legislation.

"The heroin and prescription drug epidemic is devastating families 
and communities all over the country, and we need to get this bill to 
the president's desk as quickly as possible," he said.

Lawmakers have exhibited widespread bipartisan agreement that 
Congress needs to take steps to improve drug treatment, to better 
control prescription drug distribution and to enhance training of 
emergency responders in treating overdoses. But progress on the 
legislation has been slowed by disputes over funding and by other 
maneuvering over legislation that members of both parties see as a 
selling point in the fall elections.

House and Senate negotiators have started preliminary talks on 
reconciling different versions of the opioid legislation that have 
been passed by the t wo chambers, and they now hope to produce a 
final package before the next recess, over the Fourth of July.

Prince's death i s likely to spur them on. High-profile drug 
fatalities have had that effect in the past. The death from a cocaine 
overdose of the college basketball star Len Bias in June 1986 is 
widely credited with starting the crackdown of those years that came 
to be known as the war on drugs.

After Thursday's announcement that the superstar's death was the 
result of an overdose of the painkiller fentanyl, investigators will 
try to determine whether the singer had a prescription for the drug 
or whether it was supplied illegally. If it's the latter, someone 
could face criminal charges carrying years, or even decades, in prison.

Prince was found dead April 21 at his Minneapolis-area estate, and at 
least one friend has said he suffered from intense knee and hip pain 
from many years of performances.

Although the death was formally ruled an accident, that merely 
signified that it was not intentional and does not preclude a 
criminal prosecution.

Kent Bailey, head of the DEA in Minneapolis, said the agency will 
continue investigating along with Carver County authorities and the 
U.S. Attorney's Office. He declined to offer details, but said "rest 
assured, we will be thorough."

Legal experts say the focus of the investigation will now probably 
turn to whether the source or sources of the fentanyl were legal or 
not. Often, such investigations include grand jury subpoenas for 
records or for testimony from individuals.

Authorities may also look to the singer's associates.

"The investigation may expand to people who surround him," said Gal 
Pissetzky, a Chicago - based attorney who has represented multiple 
clients facing drug charges who has no link to Prince. "If fentanyl 
was obtained illegally, I don't think Prince would have gone out to 
meet someone in a dark alley to get the substance."

If a street dealer was the source, identifying that person won't be easy.

"It'll be very, very difficult," he said. "These guys don't write 
receipts, and they change phones all the time."

Illegally distributing fentanyl to someone who then dies from it is 
punishable by a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years under federal 
law. Under Minnesota law, the same actions can result in third-degree 
murder charges and up to 25 years in prison.

The names of at least two doctors have come up in the death investigation.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom