A former Monroe County physician has been sentenced to one year and one day in prison after pleading guilty to improperly prescribing powerful painkillers.
Three of Clella Louise Hayes’ patients died of drug overdoses, according to federal court documents.
State police began investigating Hayes after receiving complaints. Among other things, a local officer said a significant amount of drugs diverted to the black market in town originated with prescriptions Hayes had written, Assistant U.S. Attorney David Weiser said in one motion.
Hayes acknowledged she failed to establish a legitimate diagnosis of several patients’ pain complaints, failed to properly consider risk factors for drug abuse, and didn’t take into account inconsistencies in urine tests that reflected drug abuse, according to a release from U.S. Attorney John E. Kuhn Jr.
In one case, an autopsy showed that a 53-year-old patient who died in January 2014 after getting a prescription from Hayes in December had levels of oxycodone and hydrocodone 10 times above the therapeutic dose, Kuhn said.
Lexington attorney Robert Benvenuti III, who represented Hayes, said in one motion that Hayes, a committed Christian, became a doctor to help people and never meant to cause harm.
Benvenuti said Hayes’ crimes “were the unfortunate result of a naïve, caring, well-meaning physician who was motivated by her desire to help people, but who was working in a situation where she was out of her depth.”
In treating people who are in constant paid for long periods without a permanent solution available, it can be nearly impossible for even the most skilled doctors to walk the fine line between meeting their ethical obligations to to try to alleviate patients’ pain while not enabling addiction, Benvenuti said.
U.S. District Judge Thomas B. Russell sentenced Hayes Thursday.