The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer was 66 years old when he passed away and had just wrapped up a 40th anniversary tour with his band, the Heartbreakers. Petty had said the tour would be his last around the country, according to Rolling Stone, but the iconic rocker seemed to be in relatively good health otherwise, leading many to wonder what ultimately led to his death.
On Jan. 19, Petty’s family released the results of the coroner’s report, sharing that Petty passed away due to an accidental drug overdose. Petty had been suffering from emphysema, knee issues and a fractured hip when he went on his final 53-date tour, and on the day that he died, he was told that the hip fracture had worsened into a full break.
“It is our feeling that the pain was simply unbearable and was the cause for his over use of medication,” Petty’s family wrote in the statement on his website.
Petty had been prescribed several different medications to deal with his ailments, including fentanyl patches.
“We feel confident that this was, as the coroner found, an unfortunate accident,” Petty’s family wrote. The statement continued:
“As a family we recognize this report may spark 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. Many people who overdose begin with a legitimate injury or simply do not understand the potency and deadly nature of these medications.”
Petty’s tragic death highlights a growing crisis in North America: in 2016 alone, opioids contributed to an estimated 64,000 deaths in the United States, with a further 2,500 deaths in Canada, according to the Global Commission on Drug Policy. Fentanyl has become the latest prescription painkiller to spark concerns, with a toxicity 100 times stronger than morphine—making the slightest change in dosage potentially deadly.
As Petty’s death demonstrates, opioids are strong, dangerous and potentially deadly drugs. While they have their place in pain management, anyone prescribed opioids needs to communicate carefully with their physician when it comes to changes in doses or alternate approaches to managing pain.
Despite the sad news, the statement from Petty’s family ended on a positive note.
“We now know for certain that he went painlessly and beautifully exhausted after doing what he loved the most, for one last time,” they wrote. The online statements were signed by wife, Dana (pictured below, second from left; singer Regina Spektor is on the far left), and his older daughter from his first marriage, Adria (pictured below, right).
Dana was Petty’s second wife and was credited with helping him overcome addictions to cocaine and heroin earlier in life.
Perry’s younger daughter, AnnaKim, posted her own message of remembrance to Instagram on the same day, writing about some of the pain the rocker had overcome in his life and that “The amount of pain his hip caused was beyond a normal surgery.”
Our hearts go out to Petty’s family, the Heartbreakers and his fans around the world.