Interviews offer clues to treatment Prince may have been considering

A memorial outside Paisley Park
Music fans visit a memorial created outside Paisley Park, the home and studio of Prince, on April 23 in Chanhassen, Minn.
Scott Olson | Getty Images

The California doctor who was planning to help treat Prince before his death isn't talking. But he has spoken in the past about his drug and pain treatment program, including the use of a synthetic opioid.

Seven years ago, Dr. Howard Kornfeld was a long way from the national spotlight around the death of Prince. He'd founded a treatment program in Mill Valley, Calif., and considered himself a pioneer in the use of buprenorphine, a drug that's since become a more widely accepted treatment for opioid abuse.

Kornfeld talked in depth then to Diane Pendola, founder of The Lioness Tale Prison Project, a volunteer program for women serving life sentences at the Central California Women's Facility. Their conversation offers some clues about the potential treatment Prince might have been considering.

The Minnesota music superstar was found dead at his Paisley Park studios on April 21, the day he was set to meet with Kornfeld's son Andrew to discuss treatment options.

"I was initially experienced and trained as an emergency physician, and I gradually evolved an interest in pharmacology of medical conditions, and that led me into the study of addiction medicine and then pain medicine," said in the podcast Pendola released in 2009.

In an interview Tuesday, she said sought out Kornfeld as part of her prison program, and also because a family member was struggling with chronic pain.

Kornfeld talked to Pendola about the initial synthesis of buprenorphine in the 1970s, and the development of the drug to treat addiction in France in the 1990s. He said he founded his practice, Recovery Without Walls, to help develop addiction treatment assisted by medicine and other therapies. He said he saw patients with chronic pain, mood or thinking disorders as well as addiction.

Kornfeld also said the treatment wasn't just about buprenorphine. He talked of "other medications, as well as nutritional supplements, as well as good psychotherapy as well as exercise and body therapies" including yoga and acupuncture.

He also noted the growing acceptance of the potential medicinal value of marijuana during the interview, although he didn't say it was part of his therapy.

"Often people have been made to detox and sort of kick very hard, go through very strenuous experiences, which in our opinion, are not only not necessary, but they're harmful," Kornfeld said in 2009. "Because these are people who are already traumatized, often by events in their life or by the disease that they're suffering from. So that they really need to be handle gently. And we try to do that."

California records indicate Howard Kornfeld has a clean medical license. But questions remain about Kornfeld's actions in the Prince case, including whether he was obligated to act more forcefully than referring Prince to a Minnesota physician and sending his son on a plane to Minnesota with some medication for Prince.

An attorney representing the Kornfelds said last week the pills were meant to be given to and administered by a local doctor, and that Minnesota law gives Andrew immunity from prosecution for the drugs he carried.

Kornfeld hasn't spoken publicly since Prince's death. He is scheduled to speak about his program this week at the American Pain Society meeting in Texas.

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