A Wichita doctor was sentenced to life in prison Friday by federal courts after he was found guilty of illegally selling opioids that led to one of his patient’s death.
Steven R. Henson, 57, was convicted last year on multiple counts, including falsifying patient records and fulfilling prescription requests outside the regular regimen of care. The death of his patient Nick McGovern in 2015 was a result of intoxication of alprazolam and the opiate methadone — two deadly and highly addictive prescription drugs.
The Justice Department issued a statement Friday confirming the sentenc e , saying that Henson had greatly contributed to the ongoing opioid crisis through his reckless medical practices.
“I want this case to send a message to physicians and the health care community,” said U.S. Attorney Stephen McAllister. “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. 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,” he continued.
U.S. District Judge Thomas Marten, who oversaw Henson’s sentencing, said that the doctor consistently avoided the truth with his patients, refusing to discuss drug addiction and instead re-filling opioid prescriptions at the patients’ request. The judge said that Henson ‘s work was “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,” the judge said in the sentencing hearing.
Nearly 150 people died daily due to opioid overdoses in 2016 and 2017 , according to a federal report. There were more than 11 million overdose cases in that same time period, with the National Institute of Health saying that roughly a quarter of all people who are prescribed opioids for muscle pain will misuse the drugs.
The Trump administration declared the opioid crisis a national emergency last year, allowing the administration to shift funds around to combat the crisis. Last year, Congress almost unanimously passed a legislative package aimed at funding rehabilitation centers and more resources for drug addiction victims in local communities.