FLORENCE – Chris A. Christensen, the Florence doctor whose medical practice was raided Tuesday as part of a two-year investigation into his prescription-writing practices, was twice pursued by Idaho law enforcement officials for the same reason, although he was never found guilty.
Christensen was indicted by a grand jury in U.S. District Court in Idaho in 2006 on charges that he dispensed two controlled substances, methadone and alprazolam (Xanax), to a patient who later died as a result of ingesting the drugs together.
The prosecution alleged that Christensen prescribed the drugs outside the scope of professional practice and not for a legitimate medical purpose.
However, Christensen’s lawyer successfully argued that the case should be dismissed because an autopsy revealed that the patient died as a result of taking a combination of the drugs, and there is no provision in the law for a death caused by a schedule IV drug like Xanax.
The state could not prove that methadone alone caused the death.
Christensen’s lawyer, David E. Dokken, filed the motion to dismiss, arguing: “Unlike provisions of (pertinent federal law) that relate to Schedule II substances, there is no provision for enhancement of penalty for dispensation of a Schedule IV substance resulting in death contained in (pertinent federal law), nor are there provisions for an enhancement of penalties for death resulting from a combination of Schedule II and Schedule IV Controlled Substances, or, for that matter, a combination of any scheduled substances.”
Dokken included an autopsy for the patient who died, identified only as “CM.” The autopsy was conducted by Dr. George Lindholm, who stated that he believed “the cause of death should be certified as combined Methadone and Alprazolam intoxication. The manner of death appears accidental.”
Additionally, in 2005 Christensen was charged on 18 separate counts alleging that he dispensed controlled substances, including hydrocodone, Xanax, codeine, lorazepam and clonazepam, to patients outside the scope of professional practice and not for a legitimate medical purpose.
The anti-anxiety drugs ranged from schedule II to schedule IV controlled substances, with schedule II drugs being classified by the federal government as having a high potential for abuse.
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An undercover officer for the Idaho State Police who disguised herself as a patient was the state’s key witness.
The state alleged that Christensen knew his patients were selling drugs he dispensed on the street.
Christensen pleaded not guilty to all charges.
After five years of legal wrangling, all but three of the counts were dismissed. After a five-day trial in Coeur d’Alene in 2010, a jury acquitted Christensen of the remaining charges. Many of the court documents from the two cases remain sealed.
The Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane reported that in 1998, a state investigation found that Christensen prescribed painkillers and narcotics to seven patients without treating their underlying problems.
In 2001, Christensen voluntarily gave up his medical license for two years and underwent a six-month pain management course after the Idaho State Board of Medicine accused him of prescribing drugs that resulted in a patient’s death.
Christensen opened a family medical practice in Victor in 2009.
The medical practice where Christensen works in Florence, Big Creek Family Medicine and Urgent Care, was sealed off with crime tape Tuesday and searched by members of the Ravalli County Sheriff’s Office, the Missoula High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Force, the Montana Division of Criminal Investigation and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
No charges have been filed against Christensen and the investigation is ongoing, according to Ravalli County Sheriff Chris Hoffman.
Calls to Christensen’s office could not connect on Tuesday because the voice mailbox was full.