Las Vegas Sun

June 19, 2019

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Las Vegas doctor pleads guilty in illegal prescription case

A pain management doctor linked to the accidental death of a Henderson judge will serve up to 20 years in prison for unlawfully prescribing opioids, according to the office of the U.S. attorney for the district of Nevada.

Steven Holper, 67, on Monday pleaded guilty to one count of distribution of a controlled substance, official said. Besides the prison sentence, he faces a $1 million fine.

The 67-year-old was indicted earlier this year on seven charges of distribution of fentanyl and 22 counts of providing a false statement relating to a health benefit program.

In an eight-month period beginning in July 2015, Holper, a veteran Nevada licensed physician, prescribed opioids to patients “outside the proper standard of care, and without legitimate medical purpose,” officials said.

Authorities had alleged that Holper would prescribe Subsys — canisters that shoot a spray of Fentanyl-based medicine used to treat cancer patients — to people who didn’t meet the requirements for the prescription, officials said.

The U.S., which is in the midst of a drug epidemic, has seen steady increases in deaths related to opioids, including Fentanyl and its other synthetic variations. All drugs killed an estimated 72,000 victims in 2017, according to federal data. Opioids contributed to roughly 47,600 of those deaths.

Holper prescribed Subsys and other opioids to a patient from 2013 to 2015, according to his complaint. Afterward, he continued to give her the canisters without a prescription, officials said.

The patient — later identified in a civil lawsuit as Diana Hampton, a Henderson municipal judge — died from a severe infection in her lower right arm.

Lung disease, but also fentanyl, contributed to her March 13, 2016, death, which was deemed accidental, according to the Clark County Coroner’s Office.

In Holper’s complaint, authorities allege Hampton had somehow obtained a Subsys canister from his house, and then used a tool to break it, injecting the remaining drug cocktail.

If Hampton hadn’t obtained the drug from used canisters provided by Holper, she wouldn’t had died when she did, authorities allege, noting the death was accidental.

Investigators found hundreds of the canisters at Hampton’s house, vehicle and workplace, the complaint said.

She and 407 other people died from opioids that year in Nevada, which writes 87 prescriptions per every 100 residents, officials said.

Holper’s sentencing hearing was scheduled for March 19.

“Holper’s actions contributed to the opioid epidemic in Nevada and elsewhere,” official said.