The courts claim that Dr. Stephen R. Henson’s illegal opioid prescriptions led directly to a patient’s death.
A Kansas doctor has been sentenced to life in prison after a federal court determined he’d illegally sold opioids to a patient who later overdosed and died.
According to the conservative Washington Examiner, Stephen R. Henson was convicted last year on multiple counts, including falsifying patient records and fulfilling irregular prescription requests. Initially indicted on nearly three dozen counts, Henson maintained his innocence throughout trial.
Meanwhile, three of the doctor’s co-defendants opted instead to plead guilty.
Investigators say the former Wichita physician sold illegal quantities of alprazolam and methadone to Nick McGovern.
McGovern, says the Examiner, died in 2015.
Both drugs, which are highly addictive, were deemed cause of death.
Late last week, Judge J. Thomas Marten said it’s “quite clear” that Henson ordered the medications without any legitimate medical purpose, “[abusing] his position of trust as a licensed physician.”
“I have sentenced people to life before,” Marten said Friday. “They were people who took guns and shot people.”
Kansas.com notes that law enforcement turned an eye toward Henson after a pharmacist became suspicious of his many prescriptions.
Prosecutors say they hope the verdict will serve as an example to other physicians as well as the wider healthcare community.
“I want this case to send a message to physicians and the healthcare community,” U.S. Attorney Stephen McAllister said in a statement. “Unlawfully distributing opioids and other controlled substances is a federal crime that could end a medical career and send an offender to prison.”
“We are dealing with an epidemic,” McAllister added. “Nationwide, more than 70,000 Americans died in 2017 from drug overdoses. That is more than all the American casualties during the war in Vietnam.”
And the judge says that Henson went far beyond selling prescriptions. According to Marten, the doctor routinely ordered enough medication to foster addiction, glossing over its ill effects with patients. As the Washington Examiner recounts, Marten likened the practice to “a pantomime of a genuine doctor-patient relationship.”
“There was ample evidence that Henson was prescribing opioid medications in amounts likely to lead to addiction, and in amounts so expensive that the patients would likely be forced by economic circumstances to support their addiction by selling some of the drugs to others,” Marten said during a sentencing hearing.
But Marten didn’t stop there, claiming that, in his years on the bench, he’d only seen several people he believed were “filled with evil and beyond redemption.”
“In some respects, what I’ve seen from you is worse,” the judge said, “in that you don’t seem to understand.
“I really don’t think that you get it. I think that in some respects you were numb to what you were doing over time,” he continued. “I just wonder if your practices have had any impact on you. It seems as if you’re still thinking, ‘Why am I here, what did I do wrong?’
“You seem to be missing some kind of a piece to be able to tap into other people’s feelings and sufferings.”
Henson will be forced to surrender his medical license.
Kansas.com reports that authorities seized some $20,000 in cash from the doctor’s home, as well as over a half-million in assets. He was taken into custody by U.S. marshals following last Friday’s verdict.