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Former Monroe County Doctor Learns Punishment in Overprescribing Case

A former Monroe County physician is headed to prison for over-prescribing pain medicine that resulted in patient deaths. 

Clella Hayes was sentenced Thursday in federal court in Bowling Green. 

In testimony before the court, the 42-year-old mother of two was hailed by her family and colleagues as someone whose life was devoted to serving others.  Her sister, Sarah Higgins, asked for leniency.

"When we were little, all I ever remember hearing her say was that she wanted to become a doctor," Higgins said.

"I believe she's a very good person, but the truth is, this case involves ugly facts and a number of dead patients, said prosecutor David Weiser with the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Kentucky.

Hayes over-prescribed pain killers, including Fentanyl, Hydrocodone and Oxycontin, resulting in the overdose deaths of three patients. She pleaded guilty last year to several counts of dispensing controlled substances outside the course of professional medical practice. 

Prosecutors recommended a two-year sentence while her defense attorneys asked for probation.  In the end, U.S. District Judge Thomas Russell handed down a one-year sentence followed by three years of supervised release. 

The local police and coroner told investigators that much of the local drug trade and overdoses deaths could be traced to Hayes’ Tompkinsville medical office.  Hayes had also been warned about her prescribing practices. 

Hayes' attorney Robert Benvenuti argued that she  was a young doctor in a rural community suffering from the opioid epidemic.

"She went into a community unprepared for the level of addiction," commented Benvenuti.  "There are drug dealers in white coats, but Clella is not that person."

Judge Russell said he didn’t think she was running a pill mill because there appeared to be no financial motive but said she did “turn a blind eye to what was going on around her.”

Lisa is a Scottsville native and WKU alum. She has worked in radio as a news reporter and anchor for 18 years. Prior to joining WKU Public Radio, she most recently worked at WHAS in Louisville and WLAC in Nashville. She has received numerous awards from the Associated Press, including Best Reporter in Kentucky. Many of her stories have been heard on NPR.
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