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KANSAS – A judge gave a Kansas doctor life in federal prison Friday for his role in 32-year-old Nick McGovern’s opioid overdose death in 2015.
Judge J. Thomas Marten told Dr. Steven Henson, 57, he seemed “numb to what you were doing over time” in illegally selling opioids to patients, including McGovern, reported The Wichita Eagle.
Henson was convicted of falsifying patient records, unlawfully distributing oxycodone and other pharmaceuticals, money laundering, obstruction of justice and conspiracy to distribute prescription drugs outside the course of medical practice in October.
“I have sentenced people to life before,” Marten said in court Friday, according to The Wichita Eagle. “They were people who took guns and shot people.”
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Henson “abused his position of trust as a licensed physician,” Marten added.
Federal investigators began looking into Henson’s practice in 2014 upon discovering that Henson would hand over painkiller prescriptions to patients for $300 in cash at a time “with few questions asked,” reported The Wichita Eagle. Henson said he upped his $50 fee to $300 to offset his office’s rent cost.
“I only had one goal in life as a physician,” Henson said, “and that was to take excellent care of patients and to increase their functionality.”
McGovern overdosed and died in July 2015 after Henson prescribed him alprazolam and methadone, a synthetic opioid, according to The Washington Examiner. It was on that count of unlawfully distributing those pharmaceuticals that Marten gave Henson life in prison.
“Before you, he wouldn’t even take an aspirin for a headache,” Denise McGovern, Nick McGovern’s mother, said in a statement during Henson’s sentencing. “… He was sent to you by his physician. You made him into an addict.”
U.S. Attorney Stephen McAllister said he wants Henson’s case to send “a message to physicians and the health care community.”
“Unlawfully distributing opioids and other controlled substances is a federal crime that could end a medical career and send an offender to prison,” McAllister said in a statement, according to The Wichita Eagle.
More than 300 health care experts wrote to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Wednesday to urge the agency to re-evaluate its guidelines on opioid use for chronic pain.
A record 70,000 Americans died of drug overdoses according to 2017 CDC data released in November. Deaths involving fentanyl, its analogs and the opioid tramadol jumped 45 percent from 2016 to 2017 alone, according to CDC data. 2017 saw more than 28,000 deaths involving fentanyl or similar synthetic opioids.