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The pills that may have killed Prince appear to have been copies of a drug discontinued in 2013

AP Photo/Polfoto/Jakob Joergensen
Prince in 2011.
By Heather Timmons
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Pills that US investigators believe could have had a role in the death of the pop icon Prince in April appear to have been copies of a generic Vicodin tablet that hasn’t been made in more than two and a half years.

At least one apparently counterfeit pill marked with a “Watson 385” stamp was found in Prince’s home and tested positive for fentanyl, the powerful synthetic opioid that killed him, investigators told the AP this past weekend.

Watson Laboratories discontinued pills with the same stamp, a generic version of Vicodin containing a blend of hydrocodone and acetaminophen, in December of 2013, a spokeswoman from Watson parent Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, told Quartz. Any remaining supplies of the drug would have expired in September of 2015, and should have been pulled from pharmacists’ shelves long before that. 

Hundreds of thousands of counterfeit pills containing potentially lethal doses of fentanyl and other synthetic drugs have entered the US, from labs in China that are “mass-producing” the pills, the US Drug Enforcement Agency said last month. Teva “does not have a manufacturing facility or any distribution channels in China,” the company spokeswoman added, after divesting a small facility in 2013, and the company hasn’t sold products containing fentanyl since 2010.

Investigators “are leaning toward the theory that [Prince] took the pills not knowing they contained” fentanyl, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported on Aug. 21. How the counterfeit generic Vicodin ended up at his residence remains unclear.

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