Justin Townes Earle died of an accidental drug overdose, a medical examiner has concluded. The singer-songwriter’s representatives released the news on Facebook on Tuesday (Dec. 1), a little over three months after his death at the age of 38.
“Next to alcohol and cocaine, the autopsy report revealed traces of fentanyl, indicating that that usage of fentanyl-laced cocaine resulted in an overdose,” the statement explains. “Even though Justin was very outspoken and concerned about the opioid epidemic and the dangers of the ‘legal’ drugs fed by the pharmaceutical companies, he became the victim of a deadly dose of fentanyl.
“Illicit drugs laced with fentanyl are causing an enormous rise in overdoses, turning cocaine usage into an even deadlier habit,” the statement adds. “It only takes a few salt sized granules of fentanyl to cause an overdose. And in most cases, [it] happens so fast that intervention likely could not reverse it.”
The statement from Earle’s team also cautions that while alcohol is legal, readily available and widely consumed, it is still “a psychoactive, neurotoxic addictive narcotic,” and the effects of its long-term and continual use are “deadly.” Like his father, fellow artist Steve Earle, Justin Townes Earle struggled with both drugs and alcohol throughout his life.
After he first got sober, Earle relapsed twice. In recent years, however, he was keeping sober with the help of marijuana, he told fellow musician Chris Shiflett on Shiflett’s podcast in 2017.
“Addiction is a disease, and there are many avenues and treatments to become and stay free from alcohol and drug usage,” the statement ends. “If you or a loved one are struggling with substance addiction, please know that you’re not alone and reach out for help. Don’t lose hope.”
Earle’s body was discovered in his Nashville apartment by local police on Aug. 23, when they responded to a welfare check requested by a friend who had not heard from Earle since Aug. 20. There were no signs of foul play or struggle, and a preliminary investigation reported, too, that Earle’s likely cause of death was a drug overdose.
Earle’s mother is Steve Earle’s now-ex-wife Carol Anne Hunter. The younger Earle dropped out of school as a teenager to play music, including with his dad’s touring band, the Dukes, and the Nashville bands the Swindlers and the Distributors. His first project, the Yuma EP, arrived in 2007; his most recent, The Saint of Lost Causes, was released in 2019.
Justin Townes Earle married his wife Jenn in 2013, and they welcomed a daughter, Etta St. James, in 2017. In honor of his life and work, Steve Earle is releasing J.T., an album of his son’s songs, on Jan. 4, what would have been Justin Townes Earle’s 39th birthday. One-hundred percent of the artist advances and royalties from the project are being donated to a trust for Etta.
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