Medical board may reinstate physician's license

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MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) — A southwestern Montana doctor who lost his license for excessive prescription of pain medication has agreed to acknowledge some wrongdoing in order to practice medicine again, the Department of Labor and Industry said.

Dr. Chris A. Christensen would face restrictions, including being allowed to prescribe only a week's worth of narcotic pain medication to patients. The agreement, drafted by Michael Fanning, assistant special attorney general for the agency, was approved by the Board of Medical Examiners.

"This is the result of a lot of discussion between Dr. Christensen and I," Fanning told the Missoulian ( "And it was healthy, and it was sincere and productive and civil and I thought we reached a good product and I endorse it."

Christensen's Big Creek Family Medicine clinic in Florence was raided by federal and local law enforcement last spring. An investigation found Christensen prescribed excessive doses of narcotics, demonstrated substandard decision-making and medical judgment, kept substandard and illegible patient charts, and did not adequately counsel patients about the risks of higher drug quantities and taking them in combination with other prescribed drugs.

No criminal charges have been filed.

Deputy Ravalli County Attorney Thorin Geist declined to comment about whether the state intended to file charges. He said a drug task force seized thousands of pages of documents and prosecutors are still going through them.

The Board of Medical Examiners agreed on May 15 to end Christensen's suspension as long as he acknowledged a number of breaches in standard care, completed a one-day medical record-keeping seminar and accepted several restrictions. He still must find a board-approved preceptor to oversee his practice, Fanning said Thursday.

The board proposes giving Christensen a probationary license that prevents him from treating chronic pain patients with opioids. Some of his medical records would be subject to peer review.

Christensen "specifically is prohibited from serving as the consulting physician for third parties or care givers in mass conference-like settings," and may only approve medical marijuana certificates for established patients, the agreement states.

Christensen could only prescribe a seven-day course of narcotic pain medication to a patient for a specific injury. He could not prescribe consecutive seven-day prescriptions for the same injury to avoid the restriction, the agreement states. It also requires Christensen to pay the estimated $2,000 cost of the investigation.

Christensen included a statement that said after two Missoula hospitals discontinued prescribing opioids as part of their pain management programs in about 2011, he was flooded with patients seeking to continue their established course of treatment.

"I regret that I failed to grasp the scope of the problem before the intrusion of federal and county law enforcement officials," Christensen wrote. "It is apparent to me now that I alone cannot hope to address a management problem of this magnitude while attempting to deliver primary care services" to his patients.

He said he no longer intended to prescribe narcotics for chronic pain but said he become convinced in 2005 that marijuana represented a safe, viable option for pain patients.

The state board's investigation into Christensen began in January 2014 after some of his patients filed a complaint against a pharmacist who refused to fill prescriptions written by Christensen. The investigation found that Christensen prescribed one patient 19,508 methadone tablets over a 14-month period — an average of over 45 per day — and that two of Christensen's patients died of drug overdoses.

Christensen gave up his medical license in Idaho for two years, starting in 2001, after the Idaho State Board of Medicine said he prescribed drugs that resulted in a patient's death.

He was indicted by a federal grand jury in Idaho five years later on charges that he unlawfully dispensed a controlled substance that resulted in a patient's death. He was not convicted.


Information from: Missoulian,

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