Justin Townes Earle's Cause of Death Deemed an Accidental Drug Overdose from Fentanyl-Laced Cocaine

Benjamin VanHoose
·3-min read

A cause of death has been determined for Justin Townes Earle, three months after he died at age 38.

The late musician's team announced the news on Tuesday, revealing that the medical examiner "concluded that the cause of his death was an accidental drug overdose." After his death in August, the Metro Nashville Police Department said Earle's death is "likely related to a drug overdose," PEOPLE confirmed at the time.

Earle, the son of singer Steve Earle, had alcohol and cocaine in his system, his team said in the Facebook announcement this week, adding that "the autopsy report revealed traces of fentanyl indicating that that usage of fentanyl laced cocaine resulted in an overdose."

"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," read the statement. "Illicit drugs laced with fentanyl are causing an enormous rise in overdoses, turning cocaine usage into an even deadlier habit."

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"It only takes a few salt sized granules of fentanyl to cause an overdose. And in most cases, happens so fast that intervention likely could not reverse it," they continued. "Although legal, and available nearly everywhere, alcohol is a psychoactive, neurotoxic addictive narcotic. The effects of continual, long term alcohol intake is deadly."

"Addiction is a disease and there are many avenues and treatments to become and stay free from alcohol and drug usage. 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. With love and health, Team JTE."

Earle's family confirmed his death on Aug. 23 in a statement posted to his social media.

"It is with tremendous sadness that we inform you of the passing of our son, husband, father and friend Justin," Earle's family wrote. "So many of you have relied on his music and lyrics over the years and we hope that his music will continue to guide you on your journeys. You will be missed dearly Justin 💔."

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The late singer — who is survived by his wife Jenn Marie and daughter Etta St. James — had previously spoken about his battle with drugs and alcohol. He survived five heroin overdoses by the time he was 21, according to the Charleston City Paper. In 2010, he told the Wall Street Journal that he started using hard drugs at age 12. He was also fired from his father's band The Dukes due to his drug abuse.

"At the time, I'd been a junkie for a good portion of my life," Earle told the Charleston City Paper that same year. "It's kind of one of those things you just grow to expect when you have that lifestyle. You get fired. You lose things. You go to jail. You just kind of get used to it. It happens, even if it is family."

The musician, who was born and raised in Nashville, dropped his first EP Yuma in 2007 and followed it up with several albums, including his latest, The Saint Of Lost Causes.

"When I started making records, I was sober," he told Rolling Stone in 2017, adding that he was using marijuana to remain sober today. "I got all my craziness out of the way as a coffeehouse musician and a roadie."

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, please contact the SAMHSA substance abuse helpline at 1-800-662-HELP.