By Pat Anson, Editor
Tom Petty died from an accidental overdose caused by a potent cocktail of opioid painkillers, anti-anxiety medication and an anti-depressant that the singer was taking for chronic pain and other illnesses, according to autopsy findings and family members. Two of the drugs detected were illegal fentanyl analogues.
The 66-year old rock legend died last October after suffering cardiac arrest and collapsing at his home in Malibu. He had just completed a grueling tour to mark the 40th anniversary of his band, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
In autopsy results released Friday, the Los Angeles County Coroner listed Petty’s cause of death as "multisystem organ failure due to resuscitated cardiopulmonary arrest due to mixed drug toxicity."
Toxicology tests showed the presence of two prescription opioids (oxycodone and fentanyl), as well as two benzodiazepines (temazepam and alprazolam) for anxiety and the anti-depressant citalopram. Doctors have long warned that such a combination of prescription drugs can be deadly, leading to respiratory depression and overdose.
In addition, the coroner also listed two chemical cousins of fentanyl: acetyl fentanyl and despropionyl fentanyl. They are not prescription drugs, but are illegal synthetic opioids increasingly appearing on the black market in counterfeit medication. The brief statement by the coroner did not point this out, nor did it list the blood levels at which any of the drugs were detected.
Petty’s wife Dana and daughter Adria released a statement saying the singer was prescribed "various pain medications for a multitude of issues including fentanyl patches," and that he suffered from emphysema, knee problems and 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," the statement said.
“On a positive note we now know for certain he went painlessly and beautifully exhausted after doing what he loved the most, for one last time, performing live with his unmatchable rock band for his loyal fans on the biggest tour of his 40 plus year career. He was extremely proud of that achievement in the days before he passed.”
The family said it recognized Petty’s overdose may “spark a further discussion on the opioid crisis” and perhaps save some lives. “Many people who overdose begin with a legitimate injury or simply do not understand the potency and deadly nature of these medications,” they said.
In 2016, the Food and Drug Administration expanded the warning labels on all opioids and benzodiazepines because of the risk they pose when used together.
"It is nothing short of a public health crisis when you see a substantial increase of avoidable overdose and death related to two widely used drug classes being taken together," said then FDA Commissioner Robert Califf, MD. "We implore health care professionals to heed these new warnings and more carefully and thoroughly evaluate, on a patient-by-patient basis, whether the benefits of using opioids and benzodiazepines – or CNS (central nervous system) depressants more generally – together outweigh these serious risks."