HELENA, Mont. (AP) - A southwestern Montana doctor has been arrested on suspicion of overprescribing pain medication, leading to the deaths of two patients and potential harm to nine others, Ravalli County authorities said.
Chris Arthur Christensen, 67, was arrested Thursday morning at his home in Florence, County Attorney Thorn Geist said. He was jailed in lieu of $200,000 bond.
Christensen is scheduled to make an initial court appearance Friday on two counts of negligent homicide, nine counts of criminal endangerment and 388 felony counts of criminal distribution of dangerous drugs.
Christensen’s Big Creek Family Medicine Clinic in Florence was raided in April 2014. Officers seized drugs, medical records and cash. The Montana Board of Medical Examiners suspended Christensen’s license in April 2014. The board issued a probationary license in May 2015 if he acknowledged some wrongdoing and worked under the supervision of another physician.
John Smith of Missoula, who was Christensen’s attorney in a case over his medical license, has not been retained to represent him in the criminal case, an office spokesman said.
Charging documents allege Christensen prescribed methadone and Dilaudid to 43-year-old Kara Philbrick-Lenker of Missoula on March 13, 2013 without consulting her primary physician, who had refused to give her methadone due to an earlier overdose. She died three days later from mixed drug toxicity.
Prosecutors allege Christensen had prescribed medical marijuana to 38-year-old Gregg Griffin of Missoula as far back as November 2008. In February 2012, Griffin told Christensen he could no longer afford Suboxone, a drug used to treat narcotic addiction that had been prescribed by another physician. Christensen prescribed methadone. Griffin died in April 2012 of mixed toxicity drug overdose.
Other patients received thousands of pills, one made three suicide attempts and another was found unconscious by her daughter, charging documents said. One patient reported Christensen gave him a “menu” of drugs from which to choose, another called Christensen the “best drug dealer I’ve ever had,” and a North Dakota man acknowledged he obtained prescriptions from Christensen for drugs he sold in the Bakken oilfields.
Patients said he used street names for drugs, knew their street value and recommended certain pharmacies, court records said.
The drug task force determined Christensen’s business operated almost exclusively in cash, that he grossed over $500,000 annually, court records said.
The Board of Medical Examiners’ investigation into Christensen began in January 2014 after some patients filed a complaint against a pharmacist who refused to fill prescriptions written by Christensen. The Board of Pharmacy found the pharmacist properly exercised his professional judgment and issued a complaint against Christensen.
Christensen faced similar accusations in Idaho. He gave up his medical license 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 2006 on charges that he unlawfully dispensed methadone and Xanax to a patient who died after ingesting both drugs. Christensen’s attorney successfully argued for the charges to be dismissed, noting that there was no provision in the law for a death caused by an anti-anxiety drug like Xanax. The state could not prove that methadone alone caused the death.
This story has been corrected to show the criminal endangerment charges relate to potential overdoses.
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