Angels Pitcher Tyler Skaggs' Cause Of Death Explained

New lawsuits have been filed in the 2019 death of 27-year-old Los Angeles Angels starting pitcher Tyler Skaggs. Fans and fellow players alike have grieved Skaggs since his death two years ago in a team hotel, just days before he was set to start his next game. In the immediate wake of his death, no cause of death was listed and some obituaries still state that the cause is unknown.

But federal prosecutors and Skaggs' grieving family long ago settled on a cause of death. A little over a year after Skaggs' death, law enforcement officers announced that an autopsy found oxycodone, fentanyl, and grain alcohol in his system, according to a 2020 ESPN report. While oxycodone can be lethal on its own, prosecutors were certain that Skaggs' death was connected directly to the fentanyl. Fentanyl that was likely laced into the oxycodone he allegedly paid former Angels communication director, Eric Kay, to find. 

Kay has since been indicted for distributing a controlled substance but the Skaggs family feels that the Angels organization should also be held responsible. In a more recent report, ESPN revealed that when questioned by federal investigators, Kay admitted he provided illegal pain medication to at least five other players though he did not name the others involved. The Skaggs added that the Angels have a team culture of playing despite injuries, forcing their players to seek out pain-killing options that may endanger them.

The effects of fentanyl

In their 2020 report, ESPN shared that Kay told authorities he saw Skaggs abuse pills, at least one of which was a substance he didn't recognize. It is possible that these pills were not the same that Mr. Kay procured for Skaggs, a possibility investigators are still exploring. What is known, however, is that Skaggs overdosed on a combination of oxycodone and fentanyl. More specifically, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Texas stated that "it was later ascertained that but for the fentanyl, Mr. Skaggs would not have died." However, the validity of this statement has been called into question.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, fentanyl causes a rush of euphoria when it is taken. It can then cause nausea and vomiting as well as the sensation that a person's limbs and body are heavy. Skaggs' immediate cause of death was asphyxiation of his own vomit, a situation that can be caused by fentanyl's side effects.

There are no reports yet on what the Skaggs family is seeking in their lawsuits, other than justice for Tyler. In the meantime, Eric Kay waits to stand trial for providing Skaggs and others with the illicit drugs, part of America's ongoing opioid crisis.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).