Arrow-right Camera

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Monday, September 28, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Clear Night 45° Clear

Justices overturn doctor’s convictions in overdose deaths

UPDATED: Wed., Sept. 16, 2020

FILE - In this Feb. 2, 2018, file photo, Dr. Chris Christensen and his wife, Gayle, leave the Ravalli County Courthouse in Hamilton after Christensen was sentenced to prison for his role in the overdose deaths of two of his patients. A split Montana Supreme Court has overturned Christensen's convictions for negligent homicide in the overdose deaths of two of his patients. Justices said Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020, the state did not present sufficient evidence to establish that Christensen's actions in prescribing narcotics were the direct cause of the deaths of Greg Griffin in 2012 and Kara Philbrick in 2013.  (Kurt Wilson)
FILE - In this Feb. 2, 2018, file photo, Dr. Chris Christensen and his wife, Gayle, leave the Ravalli County Courthouse in Hamilton after Christensen was sentenced to prison for his role in the overdose deaths of two of his patients. A split Montana Supreme Court has overturned Christensen's convictions for negligent homicide in the overdose deaths of two of his patients. Justices said Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020, the state did not present sufficient evidence to establish that Christensen's actions in prescribing narcotics were the direct cause of the deaths of Greg Griffin in 2012 and Kara Philbrick in 2013. (Kurt Wilson)
By Amy Beth Hanson Associated Press

HELENA – A split Montana Supreme Court on Wednesday overturned a former western Montana pain doctor’s convictions of negligent homicide in the deaths of two patients.

The justices, in a 4-3 ruling, said prosecutors did not present sufficient evidence to establish that Chris Christensen’s actions in prescribing narcotics were the direct cause of the deaths of Greg Griffin in 2012 and Kara Philbrick in 2013.

Christensen, whose practice in Florence was raided by federal agents in 2014, has now avoided legal consequences for the overdose deaths of seven patients, including five in Idaho in the 1990s. He surrendered his medical license for two years after the Idaho cases.

Toxicologists said Philbrick had six drugs and alcohol in her system when she died. Christensen had prescribed her only two medications, both of which can be used as pain medication.

Griffin had seven drugs and marijuana in his system, an autopsy found, but Christensen had prescribed only methadone and Xanax, a drug to treat anxiety, the majority noted.

The justices, in a 5-2 ruling, upheld Christensen’s convictions on nine counts of criminal endangerment and 11 counts of criminal distribution of dangerous drugs after finding he acted more like a “drug pusher” than a physician in overprescribing opiate and anti-anxiety medications to patients with histories of drug abuse and addiction.

Three of the justices said they would have upheld the negligent homicide convictions.

Two justices said Montana’s laws were not designed to prosecute physicians for writing ill-advised prescriptions, and the families of the victims should have pursued a medical malpractice case. They would have overturned all of the convictions.

Christensen was convicted in November 2017 and sentenced in February 2018 to 20 years in prison with 10 suspended. The ruling returns the case to state court for resentencing.

Ravalli County Attorney Bill Fulbright did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment and the listed phone number for Christensen’s attorney, Joseh Van de Wetering, rang busy on Wednesday afternoon.

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

The journalists of The Spokesman-Review are a part of the community. They live here. They work here. They care. You can help keep local journalism strong right now with your contribution. Thank you.

Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter

Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.



6 easy ways to create the ballpark experience at home

Group of male friends watching a baseball and celebrating a home run from their favorite team (Antonio_diaz Antonio_diaz / Thinkstock)
Sponsored

As much as pretty much all of us secretly want to be superfans, it’s pretty hard to make it to every home game.