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Doctor who treated Prince agrees to $30K penalty for illegal prescription

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A fan touched Prince's star on the wall.
After kissing his fingers, a fan touched Prince's star on the wall of First Ave., Thursday, April 21, 2016.
Jeff Wheeler | Star Tribune via AP

Updated 1:05 p.m. | Posted 10:05 a.m.

A Twin Cities doctor accused of illegally prescribing narcotics to the late music icon Prince before his death has agreed to pay $30,000 to settle a federal civil violation.

Dr. Michael Todd Schulenberg
Dr. Michael Todd Schulenberg
AP

The settlement between the U.S. Attorney for Minnesota and Dr. Michael Todd Schulenberg comes as Carver County prosecutors are prepared to announce  whether they'll file any criminal charges stemming from their two-year investigation into Prince's death. 

Authorities are expected to brief reporters at 11:30 a.m. MPR News will carry the announcement live.

Prince was found unresponsive on April 21, 2016, in an elevator at Paisley Park — his home and studio complex. He was 57 years old. 

Six weeks later, an autopsy would reveal that Prince died of "fentanyl toxicity," and that the synthetic opioid painkiller, 50 times more powerful than heroin, was self-administered. The Midwest Medical Examiner's office ruled it an accident.

Federal prosecutors and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration alleged Schulenberg, a family physician who saw Prince at least twice before he died, violated the Controlled Substances Act when he wrote a prescription in the name of someone else on April 14, 2016.

The settlement, dated Monday, does not name Prince or make any references to the Prince investigation.

But search warrants previously released say Schulenberg told authorities he prescribed oxycodone to Prince on April 14 and put it under the name of Prince's bodyguard and close friend, Kirk Johnson, "for Prince's privacy." 

Schulenberg's attorney has disputed that, saying that the doctor "never directly prescribed opioids to Prince, nor did he ever prescribe opioids to any other person with the intent that they would be given to Prince."

Earlier this week, prosecutors told Schulenberg's attorneys he was not the target of a criminal investigation.

In a statement Thursday, Schulenberg's attorney said the doctor settled with the federal government to avoid the expense and "unknown outcome of litigation. Dr. Schulenberg affirms his previous statement that he did not prescribe opiates to any patient with the intention that they be given to Prince."

Oxycodone, the generic name for the active ingredient in OxyContin, was not listed as a cause of Prince's death. But it is part of a family of painkillers driving the nation's overdose and addiction epidemic, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nearly 2 million Americans abused or were addicted to prescription opioids, including oxycodone, in 2014.

A laboratory report obtained by The Associated Press notes that one of the pills found in a prescription bottle in Paisley Park that bore Johnson's name tested positive for oxycodone.

"Doctors are trusted medical professionals and, in the midst of our opioid crisis, they must be part of the solution," U.S. Attorney Greg Brooker said in a statement Thursday. "As licensed professionals, doctors are held to a high level of accountability in their prescribing practices, especially when it comes to highly addictive painkillers. ... We are committed to using every available tool to stem the tide of opioid abuse."

The settlement notes that the agreement "is neither an admission of facts nor liability by Dr. Schulenberg." 

Under the settlement, Schulenberg has 30 days to pay $30,000 to the U.S. government. He also agreed to stricter requirements for logging and reporting his prescriptions of controlled substances for two years. Among them, he must keep detailed logs of all controlled substances he prescribes, allow the DEA to inspect the logs and other records without prior notice, and allow the DEA access to his prescribing history on demand.

It's illegal for a doctor to write a prescription for someone under another person's name. Anyone convicted of doing so could lose their DEA registration, meaning they could no longer prescribe controlled substances -- and could face discipline from their state medical board.

The settlement says the DEA won't revoke Schulenberg's registration, unless he does not comply. It's unclear whether the state medical board will take action. His license is currently active and he has no disciplinary action against him.

According to the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice, Schulenberg has been licensed in the state for more than 20 years and has never faced any disciplinary or corrective action. He continues to practice family medicine in New Brighton, Minn.

Prince did not have a prescription for fentanyl. Search warrants unsealed about a year after he died showed that authorities searched his home, cellphone records of associates and his email accounts to try to determine how he got the drug. Authorities found numerous pills in various containers stashed around Prince's home, including some counterfeit pills that contained fentanyl.

While many who knew Prince over the years said he had a reputation for clean living, some said he also struggled with pain after years of performing at an intense level. Documents unsealed last year paint a picture of a man struggling with an addiction to prescription opioids and withdrawal, and they also show there were efforts to get him help.

Associates at Paisley Park told investigators that Prince was recently "going through withdrawals, which are believed to be the result of the abuse of prescription medication," according to an affidavit.

Just six days before he died, Prince passed out on a plane, and an emergency stop was made in Moline, Illinois. The musician had to be revived with two doses of a drug that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose.

The day before his death, Paisley Park staffers contacted California addiction specialist Dr. Howard Kornfeld as they were trying to get Prince help. Kornfeld sent his son, Andrew, to Minnesota that night, and the younger Kornfeld was among those who found Prince's body. Andrew Kornfeld was carrying buprenorphine, a medication that can be used to help treat opioid addiction.