On April 21, the world was shocked and saddened to learn that iconic musician Prince had died at age 57, and many people had one burning question — why?

Officials later revealed that the singer passed from a fentanyl overdose, but Prince did not possess a prescription for the synthetic opiate painkiller. According to the Associated Press, nearly two dozen counterfeit pills containing fentanyl, and falsely labeled as "Watson 385,” were found in one Aleve bottle at his Paisley Hills estate. Autopsy reports showed that Prince had so much fentanyl in his system at the time of his death that it would have killed any adult, regardless of size. The Star Tribune reported that the 5 foot 2 inch singer weighed only 112 pounds the day of his death. 

Hundreds of people have overdosed on the drug since 2013, according to the National Insitute on Drug Abuse. But what exactly is fentanyl, and what makes it so dangerous? Now that the questions around Prince’s death have been answered, people want to learn more about fentanyl and its effects. This following information was compiled from WebMD and Narconon.

What is fentanyl?

  • A painkiller that is 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine

  • Typically, fentanyl is available as a skin patch, lozenge, pills, shots, sublingual film, nasal spray, or is given intravenously, according to WebMD 

  • A person on this drug will feel anesthetized and oblivious to any problems or concerns, Narconon reported

Who is prescribed fentanyl?

  • Fentanyl is frequently used to help people deal with cancer pain

  • Some people who are already taking long-lasting opiates for pain will also take fentanyl for “breakthrough” pain — which are sensations that break through the opiate barrier

  • Older adults and people with lung disease should use caution if they’re taking the drug

How does it work?

  • Fentanyl targets specific receptors in your brain and spinal cord to decrease the feeling of pain and reduce your emotional response to pain

  • The drug takes effect rapidly, but then its effects pass quickly

What are typical side effects of the drug?

  • Drowsiness

  • Lightheadedness

  • Weakness and fatigue

  • Feelings of elation or euphoria

  • Dry mouth

  • Difficulty urinating

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Constipation, which may be severe

What risks are associated with taking fentanyl?

  • Patients could develop a drug dependency to fentanyl and their body will expect the medicine daily

  • It is very easy to overdose on fentanyl

  • Individuals have overdosed when they mixed fentanyl with either cocaine or heroin. It can also react with other prescription drugs

  • Heat can increase the amount of fentanyl released from the patch, which causes more risk of serious side effects 

Read more:

Painkiller Prescriptions Decline For The First Time in 20 Years, But Fatal Overdoses Still Climbing

Five Drug Overdose Deaths In Sacramento Area Tied To Deadly Fentanyl, Norco Combination