(AP) — A Nevada physician who insisted Monday that as a pain patient himself he knew how to help patients was sentenced to more than three years in federal prison for illegally distributing the powerful opioid fentanyl in a case involving the overdose death of a local judge.
Steven Arthur Holper, 67, told U.S. District Judge Jennifer Dorsey that he didn’t gain financially from improperly prescribing Subsys, a fentanyl cancer treatment painkiller, to patients who didn’t have cancer.
“I saw how it worked for me,” Holper said in a hearing in which his attorney, Chris Frey, and more than a dozen people in the courtroom gallery stepped forward to praise Holper and ask the judge to sentence him to probation.
“He’s out. His medical career is over,” Frey said. Holper was a pain management specialist, licensed in Nevada since 1990.
“I knew what I was doing,” Holper said after describing his own severe pain following a 2013 boating accident. “I legitimately felt I was properly treating my patients so they could pursue home and work activities.”
Holper could have faced 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine for his guilty plea in December to criminal distribution of a controlled substance. His plea avoided a trial, and prosecutors dropped 28 other charges against him
Federal prosecutor Nadia Ahmed sought a sentence of 71 months.
She pointed Monday to allegations that Medicare paid $2.5 million for treatments for people improperly designated as cancer patients, and that used fentanyl vials found at Henderson Municipal Judge Diana Hampton’s home after her death in March 2016 came from Holper.
The Clark County coroner ruled Hampton’s death at age 50 an accident, resulting from severe sepsis following an arm infection. The fentanyl in her system was listed as a contributing cause of death.
“She was extracting remnants from vials for her own use,” Ahmed said. “A person’s life was lost as a result of Dr. Holper’s actions.”
Holper maintained that he stopped treating Hampton months before she died, after she become addicted to her medication. He and his lawyer said Hampton wanted the used fentanyl vials to fill them with colored liquid for use in an art project depicting a Texas state flag.
The judge imposed a prison term if 41 months and three years’ supervision after Holper’s release. She allowed Holper to remain free pending his surrender to prison authorities Nov. 25.
Holper also faces a civil lawsuit in Nevada state court by Hampton’s police officer ex-husband and her two teenage children. It alleges that if Hampton had not been provided the fentanyl, she wouldn’t have died.
Hampton became the first elected female Henderson Municipal Court judge in 2005. The court hears misdemeanor criminal and traffic cases.