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Though Criminal Investigation Closed, Prince's Heirs Still Hope To Hold Someone Responsible

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Family members of the pop star Prince claim that a pharmacy chain and an Illinois hospital bear responsibility for his fatal drug overdose. The musician's heirs have filed a wrongful death suit to learn more about the circumstances surrounding his death. Matt Sepic of Minnesota Public Radio reports.

MATT SEPIC, BYLINE: In April of 2016, thousands of Prince fans descended on the spot where I'm standing now - Paisley Park in Chanhassen, Minn., Prince's home and studio. Today, they're still coming to leave memorials. I see balloons, flowers, even an old concert ticket wedged into the chain-link fence. Two years later, fans and family members alike still don't know how the 57-year-old star, known for clean living, obtained a fatal dose of counterfeit painkillers.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARK METZ: Without probable cause and no identified suspect, the Carver County Attorney's Office cannot file any criminal charges involving the death of Prince.

SEPIC: That's prosecutor Mark Metz. He told reporters last week that Prince took those fake Vicodin tablets and probably didn't know what was in them. A toxicology test found the musician ingested around 20 times the typical dose of fentanyl, a powerful drug used to ease cancer pain. Despite a two-year investigation, authorities never found out how Prince got the drugs. But the pop star's sister and five half siblings are still seeking to hold someone responsible. They've sued Walgreens, which filled prescriptions for Prince written in the name of his bodyguard. Among other things, the family claims pharmacists there failed to oversee how Prince used the medications.

Authorities do not suspect Walgreens of giving Prince the counterfeit drug that killed him. The heirs are also suing Trinity Medical Center. That's the Rock Island, Ill., hospital that treated the pop star when his plane made an emergency landing six days before he died. Prince's siblings allege hospital staff failed to investigate the cause of the overdose or treat it properly. The pharmacy chain, the hospital and the siblings all declined to comment on the suit. Sharon Sandeen teaches at the Mitchell Hamline School of Law in Saint Paul. She says connecting Walgreens and the hospital to Prince's death will be difficult. Sandeen says while doctors have a legal duty to diagnose and treat patients, how far does that extend?

SHARON SANDEEN: Does that duty go further to require that counseling be provided? And even further removed, does it go beyond - to have them affirmatively investigate why he showed up? I think that last claim is really pushing the envelope.

SEPIC: She says the siblings' lawyers must prove that the emergency room doctor not only breached her duty but also contributed to Prince's death. Sandeen says the defense will likely point to investigators' findings that Prince refused Dr. Nicole Mancha's repeated requests for him to stay at the hospital for testing. Mancha also had a hospital pharmacist try to identify one of Prince's pills. Authorities say no chemical test was done, and the tablet was likely the same counterfeit pain medication that would soon end the pop star's life. If the plaintiffs win the suit, it'll likely add millions to Prince's already large estate and could also force hospitals to follow new protocols for treating overdoses. Lawyers for the family released a statement saying that the siblings hope to shed more light on what happened and draw attention to a nationwide epidemic. Prince Rogers Nelson was one of more than 42,000 Americans who died from opioid overdoses in 2016. Tens of thousands more have died since. For NPR News, I'm Matt Sepic in Minneapolis.

(SOUNDBITE OF AGNES OBEL SONG, "CITIZEN OF GLASS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.