Tom Petty’s family has confirmed it: The American singer’s death last October was caused by an accidental drug overdose involving opioids — making Petty one of the most recent celebrities to die in the opioid epidemic.
Petty’s family posted on his official website:
Unfortunately Tom’s body suffered from many serious ailments including emphysema, knee problems and most significantly a fractured hip.
Despite this painful injury he insisted on keeping his commitment to his fans and he toured for 53 dates with a fractured hip and, as he did, it worsened to a more serious injury.
On the day he died he was informed his hip had graduated to a full on break and it is our feeling that the pain was simply unbearable and was the cause for his over use of medication.
We knew before the report was shared with us that he was prescribed various pain medications for a multitude of issues including fentanyl patches and we feel confident that this was, as the coroner found, an unfortunate accident.
Petty was one of the best-selling musicians of the modern era, known particularly for his own solo career and his time as a member of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
He had multiple drugs — several of which were opioids — in his system when he died, including fentanyl, oxycodone, temazepam, alprazolam, citalopram, acetyl fentanyl, and despropionyl fentanyl, according to the Los Angeles Times. It’s not uncommon for drug overdoses to involve more than one substance.
Several other celebrities have died as a result of the opioid epidemic in recent years, including Prince in 2016 and Philip Seymour Hoffman in 2014.
“As a family we recognize this report may spark a further discussion on the opioid crisis and we feel that it is a healthy and necessary discussion and we hope in some way this report can save lives,” Petty’s family wrote. “Many people who overdose begin with a legitimate injury or simply do not understand the potency and deadly nature of these medications.”
The opioid epidemic goes back to the 1990s, with the release of OxyContin and mass marketing of prescription painkillers, as well as campaigns like “Pain as the Fifth Vital Sign” that pushed doctors to treat pain as a serious medical problem.
This contributed to the spread of opioid painkiller misuse and addiction, which over time also led to greater use of illicitly produced opioids like heroin and fentanyl. Drug overdose deaths have climbed every year since the late ’90s as a result.
In 2016, there were nearly 64,000 drug overdose deaths in the US — an all-time high — and at least two-thirds were linked to opioids. The rise in drug overdose deaths was a big reason that life expectancy fell for the second year in a row in the US, which had not happened since the early 1960s. And the early data suggests that 2017 was worse: According to preliminary figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were nearly 67,000 drug overdose deaths in the 12-month period through June 2017, up from more than 57,000 in the 12-month period through June 2016.
Addressing the crisis will, experts say, require tens of billions of dollars. As I previously explained, we have a pretty good idea of what those resources should go to: They could be used to boost access to treatment (particularly highly effective medications for opioid addiction), pull back lax access to opioid painkillers while keeping them accessible to patients who truly need them, and adopt harm reduction policies that mitigate the damage caused by opioids and other drugs.
Until the country does that, it can expect more and more overdose deaths.
For more on the opioid epidemic, read Vox’s explainer.