By Michael Howell
On April 7, the Screening Panel of the Board of Medical Examiners (BME) at the Montana Department of Labor and Industry held an emergency meeting and summarily suspended Dr. Chris Christensen’s license to practice medicine in the state. They did so based on information provided by law enforcement that was gathered over a two-year investigation including information gathered through a recent search warrant served on April 1at Christensen’s clinic, Big Creek Family Medicine and Urgent Care Clinic in Florence (see last week’s story).
The Screening Panel found that the information provided would likely be proven and justify the imposition of the emergency sanctions.
According to BME’s notice of suspension, the Montana Board of Pharmacy generated a complaint against Dr. Christensen on January 16, 2014, alleging that certain of Christensen’s patients had filed complaints against a pharmacist for refusing to fill prescriptions issued by Dr. Christensen. The Board of Pharmacy dismissed these patients’ complaints, finding that the pharmacist had properly exercised his professional judgment to fill prescriptions for controlled substances that, in his professional opinion, were not issued in the course of a legitimate or reputable professional practice. The Board of Pharmacy then issued a complaint against Dr. Christensen to the Board of Medical Examiners. The BME launched an investigation into that complaint on January 24.
Investigator for the BME, Amber Carpenter, issued a report on April 3 that included information that she obtained when she accompanied a task force comprised of members from the Ravalli County Sheriff’s Office, the Missoula High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Force, the Montana Division of Criminal Investigation, and the United States Drug Enforcement Administration in a search of the Florence Clinic.
Among the things noted in the report was that two of Dr. Christensen’s Montana patients who were prescribed methadone died from drug overdoses. According to the report, some of Christensen’s medical charts obtained in the search “demonstrate breaches of the expected standard of medical care and unprofessional conduct.”
The report claims the charts demonstrate irresponsible and substandard prescribing of controlled substances. It claims that prescriptions were written and timed to permit the patient to acquire excess pills over the number needed for the dosage for a given time period. That he prescribed dangerous combinations and quantities of drugs known to decrease respiration, posing a risk of death to patients and that he failed to properly counsel patients of the risks and failed to monitor the patients’ use of the drugs.
Records show that one patient was prescribed 8,900 methadone tablets in a 133 day period from August 2012 to December 2012, roughly 67 tablets per day. According to the investigator, it was not uncommon for this patient to fill prescriptions early with a 30-day supply of 1,000 tablets lasting as little as 13 days.
Christensen is also accused of making false statements in connection with a medical marijuana card when he certified certain facts as true. He claimed to have done certain medical tests that records show were not performed. He is also accused of leaving patient records and blank prescription pads around his office, violating patient confidentiality and other irregular unsafe and illegal practices. The report claims that Christensen resorted to fraud, misrepresentation or deception in the examination or treatment of patients, or in billing such patients.
As a result of the information gathered, the Board’s Screening Panel heard the matter, determined that there is reasonable cause that Dr. Christensen violated a statute or rule justifying disciplinary sanctions to be imposed against his license to practice medicine in Montana, and moved to serve the formal notice of proposed Board action, Summary Suspension, and opportunity for a hearing.
Dr. Christensen has 20 days from the date of April 7th to request a hearing in the case.