A judge sentenced a Kansas doctor to life in prison after he was found guilty of unlawfully distributing prescription drugs, including prescriptions blamed for the overdose death of a patient.
Wichita physician Steven R. Henson, M.D., was sentenced Friday to life in federal prison, according to an announcement by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Kansas.
The 57-year-old doctor, who operated the Kansas Men’s Clinic, was convicted after a jury trial in October on numerous counts, including distributing methadone and alprazolam, which resulted in the death of a patient in 2015.
“I want this case to send a message to physicians and the healthcare community,” U.S. Attorney Stephen McAllister said. “Unlawfully distributing opioids and other controlled substances is a federal crime that could end a medical career and send an offender to prison.”
The sentencing follows a government crackdown on physicians amid the country’s opioid epidemic. “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.” McAllister said.
Henson was immediately taken into custody following the sentencing, according to an Associated Press report. There was an audible gasp in the courtroom when U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Marten pronounced the life sentence, the newswire reported.
Evidence at trial showed Henson was giving dangerous, maximum strength opioid prescriptions to people who did not need them, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
In addition to the count involving the patient death, Henson was also convicted of conspiracy to distribute prescription drugs outside the course of medical practice, unlawfully distributing oxycodone, methadone and alprazolam, presenting false patient records to investigators, obstruction of justice and money laundering.
“I have sentenced people to life before. They were people who took guns and shot people,” Judge Martin said in court, according to the Wichita Eagle.
“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 wrote in an order denying the defendant’s motion for acquittal.
Defense attorney Michael Thompson said Henson plans to appeal, according to the AP.