A clue in Prince’s death could have big consequences

Published 6:39 PM EDT, Tue August 23, 2016

Story highlights

Pills containing deadly opioid Fentanyl, which killed Prince, were mislabeled, according to a newspaper report

Whoever provided them to the performer could face a long prison sentence, says Danny Cevallos

Editor’s Note: Danny Cevallos (@CevallosLaw) is a CNN Legal Analyst and a personal injury and criminal defense attorney practicing in Pennsylvania and the US Virgin Islands. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

(CNN) —  

In an important new clue, investigators probing Prince’s death have found that pills found at his compound at Paisley Park were mislabeled, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The newspaper cited a source who said the pills contained fentanyl – the drug that killed the performer – but were wrongly labeled as hydrocodone. The pills may have been mislabeled by a pharmaceutical manufacturer, or the pills may have been illegally manufactured and obtained illegally.

Fentanyl is no joke; it’s incredibly dangerous. It’s a synthetically produced, Schedule II narcotic used as an analgesic and anesthetic. It is also considered by the DEA to be the most potent opioid available for use in medical treatment; 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and 30 to 50 times more potent than heroin.

Doctors in similar criminal cases have testified that less than 10 nanograms per milliliter in the bloodstream can be fatal. The penalties under federal law are as harsh as the drug itself. Distribution of any amount over 40 grams that results in death carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years.

If someone provided Prince with fentanyl, they are certainly very nervous right now; they might find themselves charged with distributing, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a). That crime is additionally enhanced by Prince’s death from the drug, covered in 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(C).

To prove this crime, the government would have to prove that someone (1) intentionally distributed fentanyl to another person, (2) knew that fentanyl was a controlled substance at the time of the distribution, and (3) Prince’s death resulted.

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