The death of rock legend Tom Petty has officially been ruled an accidental overdose of prescription opioids. Yesterday, a medical examiner revealed that Petty died last October due to a fatal overdose of fentanyl, oxycodone and generic Xanax, making him the latest victim of America's opioid epidemic, which killed over 49,000 Americans in 2016 alone.
Like many victims, Petty had been legally prescribed these drugs to treat legitimate conditions. The singer songwriter had emphysema as well as a broken hip and other ailments, according to a statement released by his family. The news is particularly heartbreaking considering that Petty played through the pain over the last year of his life so that he wouldn't let down fans.
"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," Petty's wife Dana and daughter Adria wrote in the statement. "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 overuse of medication."
Petty's overuse is a common problem among patients because opioids become less and less effective over time as patients develop a tolerance for the medication. That means they require higher doses to achieve the same amount of pain relief. And those escalating doses increase the risk of accidental death.
Petty's family hopes that the rocker's death will spark more conversations about America's opioid problem.
"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," they wrote. "Many people who overdose begin with a legitimate injury or simply do not understand the potency and deadly nature of these medications."
Hopefully that message reaches the Trump administration, which can save thousands of lives by investing more resources into combating the epidemic and researching safer alternatives to opioids, including medical marijuana.