Tennessee state Sen. Joey Hensley (R), who is also a small town doctor, came under investigation in 2019 by the Tennessee Department of Health over allegations that he prescribed opioids to family members — one of whom was both his second cousin and romantic partner — in violation of medical ethics.
The Tennessean reported in October that Hensley’s attorney, David Steed, conceded during opening arguments in a medical discipline proceeding that Hensley did in fact write the prescriptions; however, “Steed said it was well-intentioned, harmless and all but unavoidable for Hensley to prescribe to relatives in a small Tennessee town where he is the only available doctor.”
Steed confirmed Hensley twice prescribed an opioid painkiller to a nurse at his clinic with whom he was in a romantic relationship.
“There are not many people in the county who haven’t been to see Dr. Hensley, and she was one of them,” Steed said, adding a moment later, “Half of the county are Hensleys. Everyone there knows everyone. There were multiple relationships and the physician-patient relationship was only one and somewhat incidental to the others.”
The nurse Hensley prescribed opioids for was identified as his second cousin “during sworn testimony in a scandalous divorce proceeding” in 2017, as Hensley’s marriage was dissolved.
Hensley wrote the woman at least 47 prescriptions for controlled substances from 2011 to 2018 without requiring that she undergo drug tests to prevent abuse, a Tennessee Department of Health investigator testified.
Investigator Brandi Blair also testified that the GOP lawmaker did not properly document the prescriptions in the nurse’s medical records.
Hensley, R-Hohenwald, is a family doctor in the same town he represents, which has about 3,700 residents in Lewis County. State health officials filed professional licensing charges last year alleging Hensley violated medical standards over a span of several years by prescribing controlled substances to family members and a romantic partner.
Doctors are largely forbidden from treating or prescribing drugs to family members or romantic partners because these relationships can obscure a physician’s judgement and complicate or hamper care.
The Tennessean noted that the charges against Hensley were not criminal but “could impact his ability to treat patients or prescribe drugs.”
The state attorney prosecuting the case “asked the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners to put Hensley on professional probation for three years and require him to attend classes on safe prescribing and medical ethics.”
In November, local news station FOX 17 reported that Hensley’s medical license was put on a three-year probation for ethics violations but noted that the lawmaker “isn’t facing criminal charges, is still a state senator, and isn’t losing his ability to treat patients.”
The Daily Herald reported in January that Hensley not only won reelection last year but “will retain an influential voice on some of the state’s most pressing matters with seats on the state’s finance, education and health committees in the 112th General Assembly.”
More recently, the Tennessee Republican made headlines as one of four state lawmakers who voted against a measure to remove a section of the Tennessee constitution permitting slavery as punishment for a crime.
Image credit: Screengrab / chattanooga times free press / YouTube