HAMILTON — A western Montana pain doctor was found guilty Monday of 22 felonies, including two counts of negligent homicide for the overdose deaths of two of his patients.
Chris Christensen, 69, also was found guilty of 11 counts of criminal distribution of dangerous drugs and nine counts of criminal endangerment. Christensen remains free on a $200,000 bond pending sentencing set for Dec. 27.
Prosecutors alleged Christensen overprescribed opiates and other drugs in dangerous combinations and should have known he was putting patients at risk because five of his patients in Idaho died and six others were hospitalized in the 1990’s because of overdoses.
He gave up his medical license in Idaho for two years, starting in 2001, and underwent a six-month pain management course.
“He came over here, and once he got his DEA license back in 2011, he immediately started the same conduct, and within six months had his first overdose death,” Ravalli County Attorney Bill Fulbright told KGVO-AM.
Christensen was charged with the deaths of Greg Griffin and Kara Philbrick-Lenker.
Defense attorney Josh Van de Wetering argued Christensen was a compassionate physician who prescribed drugs to ease patients’ suffering.
“We argued, and will continue to argue, that Dr. Christensen really didn’t commit any criminal acts, even if one believes that his prescriptions were misguided, that doesn’t constitute a crime,” Van de Wetering said Monday.
He added that Christensen “was not the one responsible for people’s deaths, and he didn’t endanger anyone simply by writing prescriptions.”
Fulbright said the maximum sentence in the case is over 400 years.
Van de Wetering said an appeal is planned after Christensen is sentenced.
The case stemmed from complaints from others in the medical community that Christensen was overprescribing pain medication. Some pharmacists refused to fill his prescriptions.
“There was recognition from the medical community that Dr. Christensen was an outlier,” Fulbright said.
His clinic was raided in April 2014 and his license was suspended.
He was issued a probationary license in May 2015, but was not allowed to treat pain patients and was required to work under the supervision of another physician.
The board found he later wrote several prescriptions without seeing patients and without supervision. The Montana Board of Medical Examiners revoked Christensen’s medical license in January 2016 for practicing medicine while his license was suspended.