Attorney: Prince was to meet drug addiction expert day he died

A painting of Prince is displayed.
A painting of Prince is displayed on an easel at the flower-covered fence at Paisley Park studios in Chanhassen Monday. Fans continue to honor the music superstar there and elsewhere.
Jim Mone | AP

Updated: 5:22 p.m. | Posted: 12:51 p.m.

Attorney William Mauzy
Attorney William Mauzy
Jim Mone | AP

On the day he died, Prince was expected to meet with a representative of a California drug addiction rehab facility who hoped to convince the music superstar to come to recovery, an attorney representing the facility's founder said Wednesday.

Prince's representatives had contacted Dr. Howard Kornfeld, a national authority on opioid addiction treatment who runs Recovery Without Walls in Mill Valley, Calif., on the night of April 20.

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Kornfeld dispatched his son Andrew on a red-eye flight to meet with Prince at his Paisley Park studios in Chanhassen the next day, Minneapolis attorney William Mauzy said during an impromptu meeting with reporters.

Andrew arrived at Paisley Park April 21 to find Prince dead in an elevator, said Mauzy, who is representing the Kornfeld family. Andrew had come to "initiate contact and talk about the recovery program" and was also in touch with a local Minnesota doctor, Mauzy said.

Andrew, a premed student who typically does the initial groundwork reaching out to potential Recovery Without Walls clients, did not try to revive Prince but called paramedics immediately, Mauzy added.

Authorities told Andrew later that this was a criminal investigation, Mauzy noted.

"The hope was to get him stabilized in Minnesota and convince him to come to Recovery Without Walls in Mill Valley, that was the plan," Mauzy said. "Dr. Kornfeld was never able to meet Prince, never talked to Prince and was sadly not able to arrive in time."

Investigators are probing whether Prince died from an overdose and whether a doctor was prescribing him drugs in the weeks before he was found dead at his home in suburban Minneapolis, a law enforcement official has told The Associated Press.

Kornfeld is known for medication-assisted treatment for drug addiction — an idea that's been around for decades, initially using methadone.

He did not respond to questions about his program, but a longtime patient, California art dealer and appraiser Tony Pernicone, says it works.

Pernicone suffered from chronic kidney stones and a near fatal bout with streptococcal pneumonia. Uncontrollable pain sent him to a hospital many times.

"I think at some point I was on, its hard to remember, 10 to 12 Oxycodones of the highest strength a day," he said.

Pernicone says he was in Kornfeld's program and using Suboxone, an opioid also known as buprenorphine in its generic form. The drug acts on opioid receptors, but not as strongly as heroin. As a substitute for other opioids, it's also thought to be easier for users to taper doses.

Pernicone says buprenorphine helped save his life. He still takes it, in small doses, even now.

Still, so-called medication-assisted treatment has been controversial.

Chuck Hilger, a vice president with New Brighton-based Meridian Behavioral Health, said there's been some resistance to treating addiction with more drugs.

"The traditional model for recovery of course is abstinence based. No mood altering substances," Hilger said. "And when you take a person who is addicted to opiates and you give them opiates, it would kind of appear to be counter intuitive. It's almost as though you're enabling their use."

But he says medication-assisted treatment can work better than traditional, abstinence based methods of treatment for addiction.

"A lot of people talk about 10 to 20 percent of the people will maintain sobriety for any period of time," he said. "When you talk about medication assisted treatment, a person that's on methadone in our programs, typically at one year of treatment, 90 percent are no longer using any illicit opiates."

Hilger says newer drugs, like buprenorphine, could be even more useful as part of a larger treatment program.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.