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Law enforcement officers stand at the entrance of Big Creek Family Medicine and Urgent Care in Florence on Tuesday, April 1, after a search warrant was served at the office of Dr. Chris Christensen earlier in the day.

HAMILTON – In the wake of the raid at a Florence doctor’s office by county and federal law enforcement officers, the Ravalli County Public Health Department issued a statement Wednesday expressing concern about the potential for narcotic and benzodiazepine withdrawal for patients who may have suddenly lost access to prescription drugs.

Authorities executed a search warrant early Tuesday at Big Creek Family Medicine and Urgent Care as part of a two-year investigation into the prescription-writing practices of Dr. Chris A. Christensen.

Now, Ravalli County public health officer Carol Calderwood is advising that any patient who is running out of narcotics should start a taper immediately in order to wean themselves off the drugs.

“We recommend people start a taper now,” she said. “Count the number of pills and decrease by 10 percent every one to seven days, depending on how many you have.”

She said that local pharmacies have been getting phone calls from people concerned about losing access to pills.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen for sure, but everybody is worried that they could lose their prescriptions,” she said.

Calderwood said that benzodiazepines are a class of drugs that are meant to be used as sedatives, like Xanax and Ativan. Narcotics are compounds with sleep-inducing properties, such as opioids.

She said that narcotic withdrawal can be painful, but it is not fatal. However, a pregnant woman who is undergoing narcotic withdrawal is also at risk for losing the fetus. Benzodiazepine withdrawal may rarely be life-threatening for people with underlying seizure disorders.

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Withdrawal symptoms can include sweating profusely, nervousness, trouble sleeping, nausea, vomiting, high blood pressure, restlessness, irritability, shaking, pain, diarrhea, anxiety, twitching and muscle spasms.

“It’s not pleasant,” Calderwood said.

Calderwood also said that withdrawal may also bring out suicidal tendencies.

For anyone experiencing a mental health crisis, West House in Hamilton provides on-call help. It can be reached at 532-8990.

Bitterroot Valley urgent care centers and emergency departments will not refill controlled substance priscriptions, but are still available for all patients’ acute and emergency medical needs, Calderwood explained.

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Reporter David Erickson can be reached at david.erickson@missoulian.com.

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